Art / Business / Environment

Art comes to Hunts Point industry

Photo by Tenzin Tseyang

“Keep Da Bronx Alive,” urges Fred Sepulveda’s mural on Longfellow Avenue.

Huge murals aim to transform Longfellow Avenue

By Tenzin Tseyang

What happens when you hand 10 artists the paint to cover 240 feet of blank canvas any way they wish? They create a “Village of murals,” in an effort to transform a bleak industrial section of Hunts Point into a more inviting route to the riverside.

Planning for the “village” began in June 2007, and since October, it has been rising on the walls of New York Recycling Ventures on Longfellow Avenue, between East Bay and Viele Avenue.

The mural consists of eight panels and mixes a variety of styles, but the individual sections are linked by a common theme: they explore the connections of industry, community and environmental concerns. “Keep Da Bronx Alive” urges the central panel, created by Fred Sepulveda.

Before he and his fellow painters began work, said SoHo artist Joe Ferriso, he found the area “so dehumanized, almost like it lacked humanity amongst the metals and scraps. Now I see the project as a light bulb in the dark.”

Those responsible for the mural hope it will serve as a beacon to guide residents to Barretto Point Park.

Projects like this “make beautiful pathways from the park to the residential areas,” said Carey Clark, the director of The Point’s visual arts program, who was in overall charge of the mural, who hopes that eventually murals will chart many routes through the industrial zone to the park.

Noting that The Point is campaigning to reroute the Bx6 bus to stop at the park, Jamar Foster, 17, an intern working with Clark, added, “Even if people don’t take the bus, I think the walk would be quite enjoyable.”

The project was the brainchild of Alan Ratner, president of Sims Metal Management Inc., the parent company of New York Recycling Ventures. Last June, he contacted Sustainable South Bronx with a proposal to create a “green wall,” growing plants along the wall to absorb storm water. When Sustainable South Bronx enlisted The Point, the project evolved into the “Village of murals.” The plantings will be added later, once the city signs off on needed permits.

“The only request Mr. Ratner made was to have his beloved dog, Spencer, be a part of the actual murals” said Clark with a smile.

Look for the fluffy white dog in the panels.

For Clark, coordinating the project also returned her to her roots as a painter. “I haven’t painted for a while, ever since I became a director at The Point,” she said. “Instead of making art, I make art happen, so this project was a pleasure for me.”

Her contribution depicts industrial Hunts Point watched over by totems inspired by Native American art.

Ferisso, Andreas Gurewich and Jason Grabowski were the first three artists to work on the project. On their 60 feet of wall, they painted a collage that includes a man in a spacesuit floating out of a door, flying doves, an antler atop a red car and a homage to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The trio worked with children from grades 5 to 8, whom they taught in four workshops at The Point. The children chose what would go on the wall from the hundreds of drawings made by the three artists.

“We have the spirit of the children in our mural. We wanted it to have a teaching element to it,” said Ferisso, explaining the child-like drawings.

Louis Nieves, an artist from the South Bronx, thinks the mural has changed the block from “merely a dark industrial site to a place where the eyes are treated to a vacation of sorts–where color and light prevails over an otherwise austere situation.” Nieves’ panel shows a couple together holding a plant in their hands, with the cranes of Recycling Ventures in the background.

Mark Hope, a photographer and an art director at Time Out Magazine, said his section of the mural “is about recycling for the future.” His panel includes a lotus blossom floating on top of a lone tire and a young boy and a girl working near a crumpled car and a recycling machine.

“The lotus flower is a symbol of rebirth and hope, and the children are a symbol of the future population working to correct the past,” he explained.

“People love what we have done,” said Hope. “Everyone who passed by while I was working would stop and thank me in their own way.”

Tanya Sams, 29, who works at Gary Plastics on Viele Avenue, walks past the wall five days a week, to and from her way to the Bx6 bus. “Having the murals here makes me feel good. Before, people did not care about this area, but now it feels like it’s safe. It’s no longer gloomy, and is more lively,” she said with a smile.

Ruben, 68, who would only give his first name, has been working at Gary Plastics for almost 38 years. “It’s different alright,” he remarked, giving the mural a hard glance and then looking around the surrounding area.

“Everything has changed,” he concludes. “The area is more relaxing with the mural present.”

“I think it’s good karma for companies like Metal Management to do projects like this, especially in this environment where they are talking about going green,” said Clark. “The Village of Murals should be a prototype for many projects like it, where the local industries should participate more in the community.”

A version of this story appeared in the June/July issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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