BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
If you’ve taken North Union Street on your way to the Rochester Public Market since last July, it’s possible that you’ve noticed the beautiful, serene girl hanging out under the railroad overpass. Her eyes are lowered and she won’t return your gaze, but even the wheeling sparrows adore her, and trail her from a distance. Opposite from this young girl is an undulating dragon with a fierce face and grasping claws, but the graceful girl is undisturbed. These images were painted by South Africa-based street artists Faith47 and DALeast. Both will return later this month to adorn more of Rochester’s walls with their work as part of a larger project, called Wall Therapy.
Last year’s set of stunning murals, which includes a long, colorful, collaborative painting on Troup Street by Faith47, DALeast, South Africa-based Freddy Sam, and Rochester-based artists including members of FUA Krew, are meant to inspire residents of this city to work toward their full potential. The murals do this with empowering imagery and plays on words, including “community, common unity.”
“I have a vision of making Rochester a destination city for this kind of inspired mural art,” says Ian Wilson, the man behind Wall Therapy and a radiologist at University of Rochester Medical Center. “We have essentially a blank canvas in a city that has some amazing walls, and amazing vistas that many artists who are world renowned would be happy to paint. We have tremendous amenities and natural beauty,” he says. However, here in the “image capital of the world, imagery is lacking. We need more imagery in the Image City,” he says.
Last year, Wall Therapy organized murals created by South Africa- and Rochester-based artists in three locations: on a wall along Troup Street Park, at the aforementioned North Union site, and on buildings at the corner of Main and Richmond streets. This year, Wall Therapy has grown to attract nine international artists, including big names in street art such as Belgium-based ROA and UK-based Ben Eine. The artists will be in town to paint July 20-28. The public will have the chance to see them work and interact with them, and to support the project through participation in fundraisers and other events.
Wall Therapy was founded and is curated by Wilson, and serves as a partner project for his non-profit organization, Synthesis Collaborative, which seeks to improve the health status of communities in the developing world by providing them with basic radiology services, using teleradiology and cloud-computing technologies. The company was founded in 2010 with Jason Fair, who Wilson met when he was in the midst of radiology training and Fair was in medical-device sales. Both were looking for a way to do philanthropic medical work.
Synthesis Collaborative seeks to install digital x-ray equipment in various locations in the developing world, and connect those communities with a growing global network of volunteer radiologists. Those radiologists will assist in interpreting the x-rays remotely, then send their findings back so that care can be rendered to patients. Synthesis aims to begin work in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, by the end of the year. It is in the process of raising funds for equipment, travel, and other considerations; the goal is to secure $200,000 to $250,000, and $50,000 has been raised so far. Funds that Synthesis Collaborative raises will be matched by partner organization The Hope Foundation for Women & Children in Bangladesh.
Haiti is also on the organization’s radar, and was actually the location that initially sparked the entire project. Wilson was approached by Dr. Kevin Fiscella, the medical director of H.O.P.E. Haiti, a Rochester-based philanthropic organization that supports a heath-care system in Borgne, Haiti. Fiscella wanted to bring teleradiology technology to the island country, and Wilson began to create a system based on existing components, figuring out how to implement it on a philanthropic basis. The project’s progress in Haiti was put on hold due to a cholera epidemic, but Synthesis Collaborative is planning to return to the nation after it is set up in Bangladesh, and other locations will follow.
Other radiologists involved with Synthesis Collaborative hail from the United Arab Emirates, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Singapore, and are committed to volunteering their professional services to a philanthropic endeavor. At present the network is largely made up of independent individuals, but medical and academic institutions are increasingly expressing “a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm,” says Wilson, and an interest in becoming involved as the project grows.
Wilson knows that healthy communities need more than medical services to thrive, and his independent initiative, Wall Therapy, seeks to give developing communities a booster shot of inspiration. He has already started this work by facilitating the creation of world-class mural art here in Rochester, and will do the same in the communities touched by Synthesis Collaborative.
“One thing that murals can do is provide a message in an enduring way,” he says of the positive-message imagery that debuted last year [see the section belowe for a full list of existing Wall Therapy murals]. The murals “can inspire on a perpetual basis. The idea behind the project last year was to inspire the youth in the community to believe in something, anything. Because so many really don’t have any belief in anything, whether it’s the value of their own life, or their future. A lot of times those ideas, or concepts, are nonexistent. So imagine a child or teenager with no direction or belief in something, no value in their own life — or they value someone else’s more than theirs. I wanted to produce something that spoke to them specifically, to charge them to believe in something.”
The Troup Street mural is a long, colorful illustration of the word “believe,” and was a collaborative endeavor between South African street artists Wilson brought to town, including Faith47 and DALeast, and local artists Shawn Dunwoody and Kurt Ketchum, as well as members of FUA Krew. The process was documented in a short, beautifully produced film by Philip J. Cichanowicz IV, which can be viewed at the Wall Therapy website.
“This year, the idea is extrapolated into a wider audience,” says Wilson. “The idea is to inspire this community more than it is at present, to endeavor to get Rochester to achieve its potential. This city is poised to assume a larger role on the world stage, but I think it takes initiatives like this to inject some passion into the community to achieve that.”
Wilson is looking to inspire citizens to take a deeper interest in their home, and to have faith in their own creative capacities to make positive changes. “The net movement of community toward a better, more vibrant future, isn’t always going to come from the municipality,” he says. “Often times it will come from a conversation between private citizens and the city itself. The ideas won’t always come from the city, but the city can support ideas that will result in a better community.”
Though the artists Wilson works with have their roots in street art and use spray paint, Wilson is careful to point out that Wall Therapy’s endeavors can’t really be classified as graffiti. For one, permission is sought for the murals from property owners, and Wilson says he is seeing a steady increase in enthusiasm from those who recognize the opportunity to enhance their buildings with artwork.
In the cases where property owners initially balk, they are typically concerned with the content of the potential art, Wilson says. But when he shows them examples of work created by the participating artists in locations around world, most appreciate the quality and content, and permission is usually granted. “The merits of what we’re doing are being realized by some key people in the city,” he says. For example, Wilson was recently granted some walls to work with in the St. Paul corridor by property owner Dan Morgenstern.
It’s not easy to break into the jet-set street-art community, and it helps to have a friend on the “inside.” Wilson’s first contact with artists for this project was through Venice, Italy-based street artist Peeta, whose work can be viewed at the North Clinton site of the BBoy BBQ, local street-art group FUA Krew’s annual live mural-painting event. Wilson began corresponding with Peeta about the artist’s work in 2006, and the two met during a short trip to Milan in the fall of 2009. Wilson commissioned Peeta to create a piece for his then-unborn daughter. “I asked him to conceptualize and interpret a child’s dream, which he did masterfully,” says Wilson. Last summer, Peeta stayed with Wilson’s family for the week of BBoy BBQ.
Peeta connected Wilson to Faith47; she introduced him to a community of creative individuals in South Africa who came to Rochester in July 2011 for last year’s Wall Therapy project. As a result of that experience, the artists connected Wilson with more artists from their world network and garnered support for this year’s edition. London-based urban-art dealer Frankie Shea has also championed the project abroad, and connected Wilson to German artist Case, whom Shea represents.
The robust roster of artists this year will begin work in late July. The Public Market — with a particular focus on the walls along Pennsylvania Avenue — will be the epicenter, with satellite locations including a wall in the East End owned by the Little Theatre, the St. Paul walls, and more “Easter egg” murals for Rochesterians to seek out.
The theme for this year’s installment of Wall Therapy is “inspiration,” says Wilson. “As the curator of this project, I didn’t want to be overly proscriptive in terms of what the artists created, but I gave them an idea to work around: how would you inspire a community in need of inspiration?”
Returning this year are the now-married, South Africa-based, Faith47 and DALeast, “a husband-and-wife team who will be reprising their roles as cultural ambassadors with Wall Therapy,” says Wilson. Faith47’s diverse subject matter ranges from realistic or stylized figures that speak of quiet power and serenity, to calligraphic script, and are often touched by some sacred element or theme. DALeast’s grayscale menageries of animals are built from energetic, skillful spray strokes that create forms which only barely resist entropy, and the combined use of highlights and drop shadows make the beasts seem ready to leap from the very walls.
New to the project this year will be Spanish-born, Germany-raised identical twin duo HowNosm, with their red, white, and black palette and nuanced, worlds-within-worlds imagery; Queens-based Cern, with his playfully bizarre imagery and surreal style; Spanish-born Liqen, whose illustrative line work ranges from the complex to the relatively pared down; and San Francisco-based Siloette, who excels in painting vibrantly hued women’s faces, feathers, flowers, and kinetic abstractions.
Also joining this year are Belgian artist ROA, whose black-and-white portraits of animals are studies in life and death, and Ben Eine of the United Kingdom, whose love of letters has led him to paint beautifully colored and patterned, large-scale typography on buildings around the world. His works are often just letters, but at times, they can get viewers thinking with pointed word play. Germany-based Case of the world-renowned Ma’Claim Crew will also join the project, bringing his skill with photorealistic fragments of figures and animals. Case “got us product support from [German spray-paint company] Montana, which was key,” says Wilson. (In exchange for their services, participating artists will receive an honorarium.)
Rochester-based artists will also again participate in the mural-making. “There will always be local artists involved in any project we do here,” says Wilson, who selected Mr. Prvrt, Thievin’ Stephen, and St. Monci for this year’s installment. “Their involvement in this project is integral to our community work because they are from here. They have a certain aesthetic sensibility that is known in this community and I want the world to witness their talent,” Wilson says.
Mr. Prvrt is known in Rochester and beyond for his intricate stencil work and is both a member of FUA Krew and The Sweet Meat Co. Also a stencil artist, Thievin’ Stephen’s work can be seen in various neighborhoods in Rochester, and he’s also known for his musical work as a producer, as well as his work as curator of art and music shows as The Lobby. St. Monci has developed a unique freestyle of gestural and colorful abstractions that are unmistakably his, and he’s also a member of The Sweet Meat Co.
In addition to local artists, Philip J. Cichanowicz IV will reprise his role as documentary filmmaker for this year’s edition of Wall Therapy, and Wilson has also tapped local photographers and local musician Mikaela Davis to incorporate and highlight her talents as well.
There will also be a particularly innovative, interactive aspect to the 2012 Wall Therapy project. The group was taken on as pro-bono clients by Partners + Napier, an award-winning creative-ideas agency. One of the ideas being developed is a book that will document the project in printed form, but which will contain links to additional digital content. Wilson explained the projected use of an application for smart phones that would allow the images, either in print or on the walls, to serve as the link to bonus digital content relating to the art.
“So a page in the book would also have a complementary featurette about the image that’s printed in the book,” Wilson says. “Or the mural would have a complementary short film related to, perhaps, the creation of that mural, time-lapse or otherwise.” Wilson will be present the interactive element of the mural project when he speaks about Wall Therapy at Living Walls, The City Speaks, an annual conference on street art and urbanism held in Atlanta each August since 2010.
Next year, Wall Therapy plans to create murals along the El Camino Trail, which is being developed cooperatively by the Genesee Land Trust and the city. That project will begin this year with mural painting on the Avenue D Recreation Center. “We have years of walls in Rochester,” says Wilson, who intends for Wall Therapy to be an annual endeavor.
“I’m often asked, ‘What’s the connection between the mural art and the medical philanthropy?’ And the common thread is imagery,” says Wilson. “X-ray images are a form of imagery which facilitates the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Mural art is imagery which can potentially enhance the life experience. So where medical work aims to preserve life, the mural art can enhance life.”
The initiatives that Synthesis Collaborative aims to bring to the developing world will be two-tiered, Wilson says: the deployment and installation of medical equipment, and the installation of murals in those communities. “Both interventions have the net effect of improving the quality of life. At least, that’s what we sincerely strive to achieve,” Wilson says.
City Newspaper plans to document the 2012 Wall Therapy project online via blogs and photos. Check rochestercitynewspaper.com later this month, Like City Newspaper on Facebook, or follow @roccitynews for updates.
For more information on the Wall Therapy project visit wall-therapy.com or follow @walltherapyny on Twitter. A fundraiser for the project will take place Saturday, July 14, 2-10 p.m. at Roc Brewing Co., 56 S. Union St. For more information on the event visit the website.
Current Wall Therapy mural locations:
Troup Street Park (at Troup and Van Auker streets) Artists: Mak1one, Freddy Sam, Shawn Dunwoody, Kurt Ketchum, and FUA Krew members Taste, Sno, Zone, and Oz.
Corner of Richmond and Main streets Artist: Freddy Sam
North Union Street (centered underneath the railroad overpass on the way to the Public Market) Artists: Faith47, DALeast, Mak1one, Freddy Sam
Schedule of 2012 Wall Therapy public events
WALL\THERAPY “Therapy Session” Fundraiser Saturday, July 14, 2-10 p.m. Roc Brewing Co., 56 S. Union St.
WALL\THERAPY Kickoff Friday, July 20, 7-10 p.m. 1975 Gallery, 89 Charlotte St.
Street Art Block Party Sunday, July 22, 2-10 p.m. Pennsylvania Avenue at The Rochester Public Market.
Community Dialogue with the Artists Wednesday, July 25, 6-7:30 p.m. School of the Arts, 45 Prince St.