Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

Black Rock Star Superhero

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C., I saw a mural on the side of a building at the corner of 14th and Randolph Streets (MAP).  So I rode over to get a closer look.  The eclectic nature of the things in the mural indicated to me that there might be a good story behind it.  So later I researched the mural.  And I was right about there being a story behind it.  The mural has undergone several distinct phases to become what I saw today.

The mural was originally entitled Washington Pizza, and was located on the side of the Washington Pizza restaurant.  It was created by Alicia Cosnahan, also know professionally as Decoy, a local artist who creates a lot of local graffiti and murals.  In its original incarnation it showed a family eating, what looks like a couple of colorized local rowhouses, and an another person eating something.  It was topped off by a scrawled and odd-looking no parking warning.

For the 2014 release of “Mayor of D.C. Hip Hop” Head-Roc‘s album of the same name (which, by the way, contained a song entitled “Mayor for Life” in tribute to former four-term D.C. mayor, Marion Barry), local muralist Pahel Brunis modified the mural, which was then retitled “Black Rock Star Super Hero.” Some graffiti text reading Head Roc covered the family, and a likeness of Head-Roc, covered up the cool pizza-eating person.  Thankfully, he also covered up the scrawled “Washington Pizza parking only!”

Later that same year, on the morning of November 23, “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry died.  That same afternoon, Head-Roc, along with other local rappers, performed an impromptu musical tribute to Barry at the vacant lot in front of the mural.  As the music played Pahel Brunis returned and once again modified the mural, this time with a tribute to Barry.  It wasn’t planned.  He just grabbed what supplies he had at home and showed up.  Three hours later he had painted a large portrait of Barry on top of the rowhouses.  And that’s how the mural looks today, at least for now.

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Christ, The Light of the World”

During this lunchtime bike ride I found myself in the Edgewood neighborhood in northeast D.C., near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America.  And as I was riding I saw a statue in a garden that to me looked vaguely like a different pose of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  So I stopped to get a closer look and find out more about it.

It turns out that the 17-foot-tall, 10-ton brass statue is entitled “Christ, the Light of the World.”  Located 3211 4th Street (MAP), it is in a garden in front of the headquarters for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It was originally the idea of a woman named Marjorie Lambert Russell, who lived in Topeka, Kansas.  In 1936 she wrote a letter to Bishop John F. Noll, who was the founder of a publication entitled “Our Sunday Visitor.”  Bishop Noll frequently used the pages of the newspaper to advocate for important Catholic causes in the United States, and she suggested that that the publication begin a drive to erect a statue of Christ in our nation’s capital.  Russell pointed out that since D.C. had many statues of famous people, one should be erected to represent the greatest person who had ever walked the earth.  Along with the letter she enclosed a dollar bill, which was to serve as the first donation to fund the statue.

The idea appealed to Bishop Noll, who published her letter in the newspaper. The idea caught on with its readers, who soon began sending in donations for the project which would eventually total more than $150,000.  Bishop Noll later arranged for the statue, designed and created by University of Notre Dame art professor Eugene Kormendi, to be placed outside the National Catholic Welfare Conference headquarters, which at that time was located at 1312 Massachusetts Avenue in downtown D.C.

Bishop Noll presented the statue to the conference, and was present at its dedication ceremony in April of 1949, where it was dedicated by The Most Reverend Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, and accepted by The Most Reverend John T. McNicholas, Chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Conference Administrative Board.  Half a century later, in 1989, the statue was moved to its current home in front of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offices, where I saw it today.

christlightoftheworld02[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Droplet and Turning Point

Foon Sham is a Chinese born artist who was educated in the United States and is now a local resident.  For over thirty years he has passionately and meticulously carved and sculpted unique layered works of art.   Many of his works can be found in fine art galleries.  But fortunately for the public examples of his work are also on public display right here in D.C. 

Located due south of the fountain at Dupont Circle, at 19th & L Streets (MAP) in the city’s Downtown neighborhood,  are two outdoor public art pieces entitled Droplet and Turning Point.  Ranging from nine to eleven feet tall, the pieces evoke water-collecting vessels intended to represent the collecting, holding and filtering of excess rain water, and thus symbolizing the function of the rain gardens of which they are a part.

Commissioned by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District with grant assistance from the District Department of Energy and Environment,  five rain gardens were constructed in 2015, adding nearly 3,000 square feet of green space which can filter tens of thousands of gallons of runoff annually. The gardens also provide a refuge for butterflies and other pollinators with native vegetation and a resting spot for people with the garden’s integrated seating.  Foon Sham’s sculptures are the focal point of two of these gardens, and add another layer of interest and beauty to the area.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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Reloaded

Murals revitalize neighborhoods with nothing but a little spray paint and imagination.  And an initiative named MuralsDC is spearheading this form of revitalization here in the national capital city.  Sponsored by the D.C. Department of Public Works and conducted in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the non-profit Words Beats & Life, MuralsDC works with business owners in places that have been affected by illegal graffiti, and replaces the graffiti with free-of-charge artwork.  And that’s is exactly what happened to create the mural that I saw on this lunchtime bike ride.  It is entitled “Reloaded”, and is located on the side of the building located at 312 Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

“Reloaded” was created by one of D.C.’s most active mural artists, Aniekan Udofia, whose other local murals include:  a portrait of Marvin Gaye surrounded by streams of color; one featuring a mermaid-like girl swimming in a sea of color at the William Rumsey Aquatic Center on Capitol Hill, and; a brightly striped mural featuring President Barack Obama and Bill Cosby that up until recently was featured on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

One of D.C.’s most eye-catching murals, “Reloaded” shows a curvy woman pointing a sharp pencil from her hips, almost like a weapon. And the pencil-as-weapon imagery seems to jump out of the wall, much like it jumped to the attention of the public when it was first planned.  The Department of Public Works was cautious about the implication of a weapon, but nonetheless supported the choice of mural at the urging of Nzinga Damali Cathie, who works at Kuumba Kollectibles , the art gallery, gift store, and sweets shop located in the building that is home to the mural.  Damali Cathie asserted, “We want people to focus on the true meaning of the weapon, the pencil, which is knowledge and literacy.  [It’s] not a weapon that destroys at all, but more of a tool for building.”  It has since become a neighborhood landmark, and received only positive feedback from visitors to Kuumba Kollectibles.

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Shh!

Riding around the national capital city it’s hard to miss the painted walls that dot D.C. and color each ward.  During this lunchtime bike ride I encountered a large, three-story mural entitled “Shh!” which is located on the northwest exterior wall of the building located 8 Florida Avenue (MAP), at the southwest corner of the intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

Shh! was created in 2013 by artists James Bullough and Addison Karl.  Through a creative partnership entitled JBAK, which is currently based in Berlin, Germany, each artist brings his unique vision and style to their combined body of work.  Bullough’s main focus is photo-realism, with attention to ambient and deep space, layers, and geometric forms.  He combines contemporary street art techniques and materials with those of realist oil painters, creating pieces of vivid color, as is evidenced by Shh!

In “Shhh,” three playful and lifelike giants mischievously crouch behind a wall.  The models for the painting were students from the neighborhood who collaborated on the artwork’s design.  Through their participation the mural project also taught the young artists the ability to spray paint pieces that are beyond graffiti tagging by providing supplies and pairing youth with artists they admire.  The collaborative effort between the students and artists was coordinated through Words, Beats and Life, a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a vehicle to transform individual lives and communities through Hip-Hop.

The mural is part of the MuralsDC Collection, which is a project funded by the D.C. Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities.  The aim of the project is to revitalize neighborhoods, provide permanent graffiti abatement to those properties that have experienced or are at risk of this type of vandalism, and to boost local businesses. 

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Afro-Columbian Mural

The Afro-Columbian Mural, also known as Currulao y Desplazamiento, is a public mural that celebrates the Afro-Colombian culture of D.C., while at the same time increasing public awareness about the widespread displacement and other human rights violations related to the ongoing armed conflict in the South American country of Colombia.

Located in an alley at 1344 U Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor, the mural was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and created by internationally recognized muralist Joel Bergner and his organization, Action Ashé! Global Art & Social Action Initiative, who also painted a number of other mural throughout the city, including Release Your Burdens and Be Free, Cultivating the Rebirth, “My Culture, Mi Gente” and A Survivor’s Journey.

According to the artist, he designed this mural with guidance, input, and inspiration of many of my close friends in D.C.’s Afro-Colombian community, many of whom have been granted political asylum in this country due to the severe human rights violations.  For additional inspiration, he also traveled to the Pacific Coast region of Colombia where the conflict is often most severe to visit his friends’ families, do research, and learn more about the political situation.

The colors of the mural are vibrant, intriguing and welcoming, while the mural’s complex content is depicted by several different scenes.  The size of the woman in the mural and the people underneath her portray the importance of Afro-Colombian traditions and culture.  These encouraging images are in a paradox with the depiction of the Colombian paramilitary, with people running from the forces, while a group of Afro-Colombians being exiled to huts is in the foreground.  And while working with a green field, Bergner also paints an airplane hovering above releasing ammo on the people below.

The mural was completed in 2009, and unveiled at a public event featuring speeches from the Afro-Colombian activist Marino Córdoba, as well as live music, traditional Afro-Colombian food, and a traditional dance presentation by the local Afro-Colombian dance group Tangaré.  The event was co-sponsored by TransAfrica Forum and the U.S. Network in Solidarity for Afro-Colombian Grassroots Communities.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Trylon of Freedom

During this lunchtime bike ride I came across an unusual free-standing column in the plaza in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, located on Constitution Avenue east of John Marshall Park, between 3rd and 4th Streets (MAP), not far from the Sir William Blackstone Statue and directly across the street from The George Gordon Meade Memorial in Downtown D.C.

The 24-foot three-sided granite obelisk is entitled The Trylon of Freedom, and  was dedicated along with the courthouse in 1954.  The work was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a German-born American sculptor.  Best known for sculpting architectural elements in buildings, his work appears throughout the United States.  Locally, Jennewein’s works include two panels in The White House, sculptures in the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building, monumental figures in the Rayburn House Office Building, The Darlington Memorial Fountain, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The Trylon of Freedom features base relief representations of the freedoms exemplified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, with the three sides symbolically representing the
the division of power among the three branches of the Federal government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The southwest side represents the executive branch and depicts freedom of the press, speech and religion.  It is adorned with relief carvings of a men at work on a printing press to illustrate the right to freedom of press; a man giving a speech to illustrate the right to freedom of speech; and a woman kneeling in prayer and a man standing in front of a cross to illustrate freedom of religion.

The southeast side, which represents the legislative branch, is adorned with relief carvings of a courtroom with a defendant standing before a judge and jury to illustrate the right to trial by jury; a man mediating between a prisoner and his executioner to illustrate protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and a wharf with confiscated goods to illustrate illegal search and seizure.

And finally, the north side represents the judicial branch and is adorned with a relief carving of the Great Seal of the United States, and is inscribed with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and Article V of the Bill of Rights.  The inscriptions read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  [Declaration of Independence]; “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain & establish this constitution for the United States of America.” [Preamble to the Constitution], and; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”  [Article V of the Bill or Rights]

Interestingly, the Federal courthouse where the Trylon of Freedom is located was renamed in 1997 in honor of E. Barrett Prettyman, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  And it was Prettyman who 43 years earlier had advocated for the installation of the artwork in front of the new courthouse.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]