Painting the empty walls: alley beautification in Phoenix

September 21, 2013

Muralist painting chili pepper

Muralist Jesse Perry tries to keep out of the sun while spray painting a chili pepper in the Film Bar parking lot.

Phoenix muralist Jesse Perry stood under a large umbrella painting a chili pepper at the back of the lot next to Film Bar, Friday afternoon. He was planning to spend the entire night painting to finish the project, said Perry. His Film Bar mural will be the third mural painted for a new alley beautification initiative that is taking place downtown.

The rest of the wall was covered with pairs of cartoon depictions of desert creatures. Each pair represented a symbiotic relationship between animals with the pairs playing off each other. The mural is titled “How to: Sonoran Symbiosis.”

“And basically, it just, in a very fun, cartoony way, showcases odd relationships that animals in the desert have,” said Perry.

rooster and pigeon

One of the mural’s animal pairs shows a boxing rooster and a beat-up a pigeon.

Perry and the other painter of the mural, Carlos Rivas, approached the owner of Film Bar, Kelly Aubey, about painting over an old mural that had been on the wall outside of Film Bar for more than two years. The sun had done its damage to the painting, according to Aubey.

Aubey tried not to get in his artists’ way, he said. His only guideline was for them to create something that relates to the desert in Arizona.

“It’s my job to build a framework for the artists to move through to express themselves,” Aubey said.

Aubey was surprised by the painting. But that wasn’t a bad thing, he said.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” said Aubey. “I’m glad to see people enjoying it.”

Perry said people have come by to take photos while he’s been painting, so he has been able to see and hear different reactions.

“I try to give people something they haven’t seen before,” said Perry.

Perry and Aubey both said that they had observed people laugh at the images they see.

“And when they actually laugh – that’s what artwork is all about,” said Perry. “It’s about evoking emotions.”

The alley beautification initiative was an idea started by Carlos Rivas earlier this year, according to Perry.

“Carlos is an avid, avid community member,” said Perry. “He wants to benefit the community that he’s a part of.”

Perry was drawn to Rivas’ interest in the community and willingness to give back.

“That’s one thing I do appreciate about him and part of the reason we joined forces is he loves to give back,” said Perry.

The back door to Rivas’ studio is in a highly trafficked alleyway that is not well taken care of, said Perry.

“And I believe that’s why he had this intrinsic value, or this need to beautify it,” said Perry.

The beautification project is a way for artists to encourage the city to clean up alleyways so they can be safer for everyone in the city, according to Perry.

“When murals go up in places, those places are more trafficked, which brings more business,” said Perry, “and you’re less likely to have crime or any type of violation as far as graffiti, spray paint—those kinds of things.”

Perry sees a difference between graffiti and graffiti art, he said.

“Graffiti is somebody throwing their name up, like what you see on trash cans,” said Perry. “They’re marking their territory – they’re not beautifying an area; they’re not trying to benefit an area.”

Rivas and Perry are still working out a business plan to keep the initiative sustained, said Perry. Even though there are other muralists in the community, Rivas and Perry are the only ones currently involved in their project.

“One of the main grand schemes of it is that for every five murals that we get paid to paint, we’re going to give one back to the community—whether that’s a school, a church, a neighborhood,” said Perry. “Whatever area is deemed in need, then we’ll go there.”

They hope to eventually gather sponsors who will pay for their supplies, said Perry.

Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, where Perry works as a concierge, asked Rivas and Perry to paint the hotel’s north stairwell, which will be their fourth collaboration for the initiative.

Aubey hopes to see more growth with regard to street art downtown. He considers Perry and Rivas integral parts of the downtown art scene, he said.

“They’re part of the fabric of downtown creative work,” said Aubey. “They’re entrenched in the scene.”

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