By Nick BeJeaux
The phrase “Urban Art” may conjure mental images of graffiti—tag art crudely canvassed on brick walls with a rattle can—but every now and then you’ll glimpse what urban art really is and is becoming in Baton Rouge.
The Walls Project, a collection of artists dedicated to improving BR with public visual art, has just completed their latest and most ambitious project to date at the Baton Rouge Mentorship Academy: a six-story mural titled “On the Shoulders of Giants.”
“This has been an amazing ride,” said Casey Phillips, Director of The Walls Project. “It has taken nearly three years to plan and fundraise and execute this mural. To date, it is the longest project we’ve had in the pipeline and to say that I am pleased with it is an understatement. I’m completely blown away by the work that Eddie Mendieta, Paul, and Jay did as artists on that wall.”
Artists Eddie Mendieta lead the project and designed the mural himself and said the design is meant to evoke an image of the Academy’s students.
“The title is based off of a quote from Isaac Newton, because there’s always some book that comes before you,” he said. “It’s three faces of kids with their thoughts floating around them. We’ve incorporated the periodic table, DNA helixes, all of that is there to show the Academy’s commitment to education.”
Besides being one of the biggest projects for The Walls Project to date, “On the Shoulders of Giants” is also, currently, the largest piece ever designed by Mendieta.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on beforehand—at least double the size—and it’s something that I’m very proud of,” said Mendieta. “It feels great to have a design of mine to be blown up on that scale.”
But Mendieta said it wasn’t easy, not by a long shot.
“The most frustrating part of the project is that you’re painting blind—you can only work on a small square at a time,” he said. “We could only go up and down on the scaffold, so we would have to be up there, paint for a few hours, and then make your way to the ground to see if you did it right.”
“On the Shoulders of Giants” is only the latest example of how collectives of artists are applying their talents to enhance the public space, but there was a time when painting on public walls was frowned upon. But things are changing, and quickly.
“There actually is a state of urban art now, and that hasn’t always been the case and that is an awesome, positive step,” said Phillips. “There is a ton of urban art that has emerged not just with The Walls Project, but also the Museum of Urban Art in old south BR, and the Red Stick Project in east Melrose. It’s an amazing thing for the city.”
Phillips says that the support from the community of The Walls Project has allowed them to continue to enhance, educate and plan for the future.
“We’re about to unveil the final product of Walls 24,” he said. “These are the five murals we created with the help of help of about 150 youth through the mayor’s Love Our Community program. Also, Walls 29 and 30 are entering the execution phase, if the weather permits—hopefully those will be done before the fall. We’ve gotten to the point that we’re planning murals through 2017 now, so there’s going to be a lot coming to the city in the coming years.”