By Brian Goslow
WORCESTER, MASS. (Sept. 2, 2017) — As Apexer, who hails from San Francisco, was painting “Thank you Sever Street!” on one of the two walls he had just completed for the Pow! Wow! Worcester 2017 international mural festival at the Fruit-Sever Apartment complex, a woman walking through the parking lot noted, “My mother has lived here for 35 years and it’s never seen the attention it’s gotten from this.” On the other side of the building, Cartoes, from China, was helping a young girl fix the braids in her hair as her brother came over to talk. A few moments later, she was posing for a selfie with a man who told her that she had come to feel like family in the week she had been painting her mural of three women.
Nine days earlier, Pow! Wow! Worcester had held its kick-off party at the nearby Elm Park Community School which would receive 15 murals by artists from around the country. That day, Pow! Wow! Worcester had surpassed a $50,000 fundraising goal to cover the cost of the event that included over two dozen hydraulic lifts and thousands of buckets and spray cans of paint. Carried out through a campaign on Patronicity, the amount pledged was then matched by MassDevelopment, Massachusetts’ economic development and finance agency, that had committed itself to matching every dollar up to that amount donated by the Worcester community.
While the initial Pow! Wow! Worcester event in 2016 had been centrally located in downtown Worcester, this year’s event was scattered throughout the city at four schools as well as local businesses, including the sidewall of the Worcester Ice Center, a new hockey arena opening this fall; its mural, created by Five 8 and Earth Crusher, from Canada, was one of the favorite works of those who had made the Pow! Wow! Worcester rounds.
The artists came from around the country and around the world. Key Detail and Yu-Baba, who now live in New York, originally hailed from Belarus. Their huge, fine detailed, three-story portrait of classical musicians immediately let visitors see the high quality of the work Worcester would be getting in the following days.
Around the corner, Mr. Stash, who has had a longtime partnership with graffiti pioneer Futura 2000 (who this author was familiar with through his partnering with The Clash during their stay at Bonds International Casino in New York City’s Times Square in 1980 and his work inside a London Underground station), was the first to finish his work — a large flowery mural — as he had to depart on Wednesday for Shanghai for “Outside In,” a large exhibition of his work.
Pennsylvania’s Nosego slowly created a breathtakingly beautiful and detailed bear wrapped in a veil; parts of its body held swirls, points of which sparkled like the brightest evening stars. To its right, at the bottom of an adjoining windowsill, sat a tiny cutout of a man standing in the most unexpected of places. One only wonders the reaction of the schoolchildren as they discovered it during their first recess of the new year that took place on the festival’s fourth day while the artists went about their work.
Christopher Konecki, who completed his wall on Friday night, never saw his finished mural in the light of the day as he had to catch an early Saturday morning flight back to San Francisco for the opening of “Swank,” an exhibition that included some of his mixed media sculptures (three of which had already been sold) at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, California.
As with all artists, the quality of the work isn’t equal to the business behind it. Some street and graffiti artists benefit from sponsorship deals (Converse has a custom line of sneakers featuring the work of mural artists) and are in demand for communities hosting mural and music festivals around the world. Others primary form of art-related revenue comes from gallery shows or the selling of merchandise online, though some do bring product to sell when they’re in town (as was the case at Worcester Wares, which prints and makes Pow! Wow! Worcester product, whose owner, Jessica Walsh, is a driving force for the event).
“Imagination Over Authority,” by Miami’s Ivan Jorge Roque, is one of the first works seen at the school, its screaming pink background home to a large flying unicorn pulling balloons drawing the attention of two playfully aggressive dogs; the original, a three foot by three-foot mixed media work, is for sale on his website, iamforeverlost.com. He’s created over 30 murals in the past five years, painted “live” at another dozen shows, and had solo shows in Miami and New York.
Directly to the right is one amazing site — a elementary school basketball court surrounded by five three-story murals, including one by 123Klan, Scien and Mrs. Klor, who now live in Montreal but were born in France. They’ve been making street art since 1992, and have a huge line of their BANDITI$M streetwear clothing, skate and snowboards, and poster art available. Their huge wall, created with the assistance of their children, resembled a highly-targeted graphics advertising campaign and indeed, it had a message for the Elm Park students — “Have Fun Kids” — which was painted over a huge three story portrait of an aerosol can of spray paint, along with the message of “Resilience” as well as other signature images from their many years of work.
Kristin Farr, whose completed “World’s Largest Hexagon” earned Instagram likes from Ogunquit Museum of Art, Bundy Modern and the Cape Cod Museum of Art (as a rule, art institutions and galleries don’t give likes out unless they truly think highly of a work), said she makes little in terms of sales of her artwork, instead making money as a writer for a number of publications, including Juxtapoz, where she’s a deputy editor.
Argentina-born Lukas Aoki, who lives in Austin, Texas, contributed a gorgeous surrealistic fish painting to the front of the school’s façade. He said he arrived with a rough sketch for his work that evolved when he started, his paint, “telling a kind of story.”
He splits his time between murals and canvas painting. “It’s a different approach —I put more detail on a canvas, sometimes. You have to think bigger for sure and get the idea on the surface that works well,” Aoki said.
He enjoyed the interaction with the school and neighborhood traffic as he worked. “It was great and I hope it really inspires people on some level that connects with them. It’s a really great spot for this; the community has been asking me a lot of questions.”
All of seven-years-old, Connecticut’s Sophie (Instagram.com/thesoph203) painted the school’s side gym entrance with two of her trademark “Happy Alien Robots”; it was her second show, the first being at an event sponsored by the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn. Before she left Worcester, she had added her touch to Konecki’s aforementioned mural and contributed a stenciled sign for the Worcester ARTraiser at the Sprinkler Factory. In a professional where connections are vital, Sophie’s career is off to a great start.
With the murals disbursed throughout the city, it’ll take weeks, if not months, for even local residents to see all the work created over the nine days of this year’s festival. Throughout the event, people arrived by bus to hike through the city looking for the Pow! Wow! locations from both 2016 and 2017.
While much attention was focused at Elm Park Community School, a 10-minute walk away, Nicky Davis of Houston was painting his highly illustrative collection of animals, humans and trademark Ghost Skulls, and Becky Cloonan, who’s a DC Comics artist and short story author, was painting the side of That’s Entertainment. Worcester artists Scott Boilard and Ferdinand were at The Dive Bar while Kay Griffiths and Ryan Gardell were painting the sidewall of the iconic George’s Coney Island Hot Dogs.
The Worcester Arts Magnet School also features a well worth the trip collection of murals by new and established mural artists alike, while the walls of Rice Square Elementary School and Canterbury Street School are now holding work by some of the planet’s top muralists; indeed, the prolific Greg Mike, currently based in Atlanta, arrived late and left early completing his mural in two days that looks like it took weeks.
As Pow! Wow! Worcester 2017 was coming to a close, Patch Whiskey (South Carolina) and Ghostbeard (Michigan) completed their day-glo colored three story surrealistic wall of what looked to be a fish (wearing a hat similar to Patch’s) riding in a car while fishing for a donut while driving over a sea of diamonds, their signing of the wall bringing applause for a job well done. The duo were “late entries” to the 2016 event, coming to Worcester to see if there was a wall for them to contribute to; the end result, which sits alongside an Asian Market and behind the Nine Dot Gallery, served as an added surprise for residents and visitors alike that continued to explore downtown Worcester well after the inaugural event had finished to discover.
While the artists who aren’t from the Worcester area have already disbursed around the globe, either returning home or moving onto their next wall or gallery exhibition, expect a series of Pow! Wow! Worcester 2017-related tours to take place in the weeks and months ahead. Last year, the collection of works became an invaluable backdrop for art teachers from elementary to college level to use in teaching and inspiring their students. For news on upcoming events, follow Pow! Wow! Worcester through their facebook page and visit their website at powwowworcester.org.