with public art
Artist Xomatok (previously) translates the vibrant, geometric motifs of handwoven Andean blankets, or llicllas, into large-scale works that mark the pathways through the hilly Alisos de Amauta neighborhood in Lima, Peru. Painted during the course of two months as part of the Municipality of Lima’s Pinta Lima Bicentenario, the 13 interventions were a collaborative undertaking by the artist and local residents, who transformed the public staircases that wind through the district into multi-level canvases. The resulting patterns are kaleidoscopic and highlight a spectrum of bright colors and symmetries often associated with the traditional textiles. In a note to Colossal, Xomatok says community members will add to the project as a way to continue celebrating their cultural history, and you can take an aerial tour of the finished pieces on the artist’s Instagram.
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Rosehips, horned poppies, and an African carline thistle grow from the debris and ruined buildings in Beirut following a mural series by Faith XLVII. The South African artist (previously) traveled to the Lebanese city this September as part of Underline—the ongoing project is helmed by the art collective Persona in collaboration with the Hamra-based NGO Art of Change, which is focused on using public works for protest and to spark change—to paint a collection of curative flowers that appear to sprout from the rubble.
Contrasting their dainty forms to the rugged landscape, the metaphorical works in Medicinal Flowers of Lebanon lead “us along the brittle sites of Beirut, tracing past and present scars etched into the city,” the artist says. “Each flower urges us in a sense, towards healing as they grow out of the concrete.” The chosen botanics are remedies for common ailments, like using chicory to treat gallstones or slathering clematis paste on skin infections, and they rely on the strength of their natural properties to cure wounds that are both visible and not.
Faith’s visit to Beirut came amidst a period of crisis following the devastating port explosion on August 4, 2020, that left the country without a fully operative government for 13 months and accelerated its economic collapse. “The people of Lebanon have had many dire challenges over the decades, and the expectation for them to be resilient is exhausting,” the artist says, explaining further:
Even in a time with four hours of electricity a day and waiting for hours for petrol that might run out before you make it to the front of the line, where your life savings are suddenly worth nothing, even in this time, there are still some rays of hope. There are many people and organizations working to improve the conditions of others. So when we are abused abandoned by the custodians of justice and governance, it is the people themselves who pick up the debris and assist each other in healing. That is what the series Medicinal Flowers of Lebanon speaks to.
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Using geometric motifs and vibrant hues that contrast their brick and concrete backdrops, multi-disciplinary artist Georgie Nakima paints oversized portraits that use color to convey “divinity, resilience, strength, and beauty.” The Charlotte-based artist, who works as Garden of Journey, gravitates toward bright reds and blues to form stripes, facial features, and various plants and animals in a manner that connects the central subjects to their environments. “The color is totally freestyle, and I really like to start with a base color or gradient,” she tells Colossal. “Especially in urban societies, it’s not always inspiring when you’re surrounded by gray and brown buildings.”
A studio artist primarily, Nakima creates smaller works on paper in addition to her more monumental projects, all of which are tied to ideas of Afrofuturism and countering media narratives with positive messages. Her practice has evolved in recent years from strict hyperrealism to a more abstract style that uses patches of color and patterns. “It’s still proportionately realistic, but there’s more depth,” she says, sharing that she focuses equally on her subjects and their surroundings. “My murals are really playing to the ecosystem. I am a portrait artist. However, I don’t seek for my work to be focused on humans existence. (I want to) put some of the focus off of the human ego and think holistically about who we are on this planet.”
Nakima is currently working on a piece at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Charlotte’s first Black-owned financial institution, and you can see more of her outdoor projects, portraits on paper, and basketball court transformations on Instagram.
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In a neighborhood of tech giants and startups, the San Francisco Center for the Book is decidedly analog. The nonprofit has been a hub for printmaking and book arts for Bay Area creatives since it opened 25 years ago, offering about 300 workshops and classes in papermaking, letterpress, binding techniques, and a range of other processes to thousands of students each year.
Beyond wanting to provide a space for local artists and those interested in the practice, though, one of the center’s tenets is community engagement, a commitment that manifests in the spectacular day-long Roadworks festival. The annual event, which was pared down in 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions, began in 2004 as a way to expand the organization’s footprint beyond its own walls, but it wasn’t until 2013 that it grew into the dramatic occasion it is today. Roadworks celebrated its 18th year this September and brought back its prized activity: printing dozens of linocuts with a 1924 Buffalo Springfield steamroller.
Each year, the center brings in the seven-ton machine from Roots of Motive Power to produce a series of 42-inch square prints in the middle of San Francisco’s streets. The process is as monumental as the event, requiring dozens of volunteers and fast-moving hands to create works successfully in the midday sun and wind. “It’s an interesting printmaking challenge in that you get to practice once a year,” says Chad Johnson, the center’s studio director and a resident instructor who’s been at the helm of Roadworks in recent years. “There’s no replication of all of the conditions except for when you do it.”
The actual process utilizes the street as the base of the press, with an insulating rubber mat on top to counter any debris. A piece of MDF particle board—the team prefers this material to plywood because it has no grain and can distribute pressure evenly—marked with a taped registration system sits on top. Once Johnson inks the plate with the yellow- and purple-tinted pigments specific to Roadworks, he has to quickly position it on the ground and have two others cover it with paper. “The only other trick is keeping the plate wet up until two minutes before. There’s no amount of ink that I can get on it that won’t dry in the wind and the sun,” he says.
After that, the rest is similar to the etching press, although it happens on a much greater scale. The team lays down a plastic tablecloth to prevent steam leakage on the paper, then a wool blanket, and finally a thick rug that serves as an insulator from the massive machine. After two rolls, the team peels off the layers and reveals the finished prints. Roadworks “has the ability to broaden the range of outreach by the sheer fact that it’s a steamroller,” Johnson shares, sometimes printing “Godzilla, sometimes a tree, sometimes a plant.” Most years, the group produces between 30 and 35 pieces within a few hours, although 2021 saw its largest collection of 38.
Alongside the larger prints created by a trio of committee-selected artists, the festival also sells linocut kits prior to the event that allows community members to carve their own works and see them realized day-of. “The idea was to get people excited about printing on a grandiose scale, and I think for me, that’s still really an amazing, powerful thing,” Johnson says, noting that these projects also garner essential funding for the nonprofit.
Although this year’s prints are sold out, the center is selling totes that feature a 2004 steamroller design by Rik Olson, a local artist who’s participated in the festival for nearly two decades. You can see more photos from Roadworks 2021 and watch for information on next year’s event on Instagram.
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Brazilian artists Douglas de Castro and Renato Reno (previously) are the duo behind Bicicleta Sem Freio, who paint large-scale murals that surround their subjects with a chaotic mix of cartoon characters, squiggly splashes, and brightly colored plants and animals. Their streetside pieces, which can be found in cities like New Dehli, Jerusalem, and Fortaleza, Brazil, balance local culture and references to popular imagery and tropical landscapes. “Our work is influenced by the ‘80s and ‘90s global and Brazilian pop culture,” they tell Colossal. “We both enjoyed watching cartoons and television shows when we were younger, and we are also deeply inspired by nature. ”
Rendered in vibrant blocks of color, Bicicleta Sem Freio’s murals depict a range of subject matter from the native plants of New Dehli to a project honoring people with disabilities in La Solana, Spain. Prior to working on a piece, the pair immerse themselves in the contemporary and historical aspects of the community to draw in mainstream and unconventional references. “We also engage with the locals and ask them about the type of music they listen to and what are the typical animals from the region. This information is crucial for us and ultimately informs our final design… It’s a weird and fun mix,” they share.
De Castro and Reno are currently in São Paulo working on a piece for NaLata Festival before heading to the U.S. next month. You can find limited-edition prints on JustKids, and follow the artists’ upcoming projects on Instagram.
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Thanks to Gerardo Gomez-Martinez (aka Hacer), the public plazas on Broadway in New York City’s Garment District are now a zoo of origami-style animals. The Mexican-American artist installed a series of powder-coated steel sculptures that loom over dining areas and walkways as part of Transformations. Commissioned by The Garment District Alliance, the project consists of seven creatures that vary in size, including a yellow dog, a magenta elephant, a green bear cub, and two turquoise rabbits and coyotes, one of which extends 14 feet from nose to tail.
If you’re in Manhattan, stop by the plazas between 36th and 39th streets before November 23 to see the bold animals in person. (thnx, Laura!)
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Editor's Picks: Art
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.