Bay View keeps pace with Milwaukee’s flourishing mural trend

June 30, 2017

By Keith Schubert

Nearer the Moon, painted by Jenny Jo, is on the south wall of Café Lulu, 2265 S. Howell. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

It’s the year of the woman,” said Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) member Toni Spott, when explaining the reasoning behind choosing five female artists for its recent Street Canvas project.

“We were choosing the artists around the same time as the Women’s March on Washington and subsequent women’s marches all around the world, so it really just fell into place,” Spott said.

The Street Canvas project, part of the KK BID’s street enhancement effort, features five murals by five local artists. The BID aims to support local businesses and community groups within its district and to encourage productive developments and improvements along Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View.

The BID spent $52,000 on the mural project.

“I saw mural projects becoming a wonderful way of enhancing the streetscape, drawing attention and increasing traffic in the community,” said BID member Mary Ellen O’Donnell about her idea to launch Street Canvas. “Bay View and art are synonymous so this project really made sense for us.”

To help manage the project the BID hired Stacey Williams-Ng, founder of Wall Papered City LLC, as project manager.

Wall Papered City LLC is a consulting agency that specializes in sourcing artists for large-scale art projects. The agency connects business owners and community groups to a network of artists. The agency assists with all aspects of a project including logistics, promotion, and funding.

Last year when Williams-Ng visited Philadelphia, she was struck by the number of murals and wanted to see that in Milwaukee.

“They’re a low cost and high impact way to improve a community,” said Williams-Ng. “You’re making a destination out of nothing. At the end of a day it’s just a coat of paint, but in the hands of an imaginative and skillful person, it’s a destination. What used to be a blank wall — people now pull their car over to take a picture of it or take a selfie.”

The buildings selected for the murals were Lulu Café & Bar (2265 S. Howell Ave.), Mr. P’s Tires (2366 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), Shape Up Shoppe (2697 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), D14 Brewery and Pub (2273 S. Howell Ave.), and Rusty Sprocket Antiques (3383-3391 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.). The bid chose the sites based on visibility, accessibility, and the condition of the wall.

“The intent was not to interfere with the artist. We wanted to let them have as much freedom as possible,” said O’Donnell about the BID’s decision to not implement a specific theme or vision.

The mural guidelines were straightforward and bureaucratic. No advertising — and no text because the city considers text as signage, which requires permits. The BID also allowed no religious or political messages and no pornography.

Concerning its selection of artists, Williams-Ng said, “We wanted to use local artists, but how many local artists have mural experience? Very few. So, we chose artists who had potential, who were already skillful painters,” she explained.

The artists selected for the project were Nova Czarnecki from Milwaukee, Rozalia Hernandez-Singh from Oak Creek, and Jenny Jo, Dena Nord, and Jenny Anderson from Bay View.

“I was absolutely excited to get to do something like this in the neighborhood I live in,” said Dena Nord.

Dena Nord’s mural Flow is painted on Mr. P’s Tires, 236 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Dena Nord, whose mural Flow is painted on Mr. P’s Tire Shop, had worked extensively in the community through Artists Working in Education (AWE) and Bay View High School. This was the first time she took on a project of this scale solo.

Nord grew up in Chicago’s northwest suburbs and moved to Milwaukee 12 years ago to pursue a Graphic Art and Design degree at UW-Milwaukee.

“Growing up, my mom was really awesome about making sure that I was doing creative things. She got me things like a sewing machine, a keyboard, and art supplies,” Nord said.

From an early age she knew she wanted a career in art. “I think it was maybe fourth grade when I won this banner contest for the suburb I lived in. I got a plaque, a $500 gift card, and my art displayed all around my town. That was the first time I realized I could really do things with art.”

After college graduation, Nord was hired as a graphic artist. “When I am on the computer doing design, I am always thinking about color theory, structure, depth, all the things that make a composition good. Then I can take all of that to the studio,” she said.

Dena Ward —Photo Keith Schubert

When painting her mural on Mr. P’s Tires, she trusted her process. “I really like to focus on what is happening on the canvas and embracing and experimenting as I go,” Nord said.

Nord’s work is often associated with marine life, mitochondria, and amoebas, so with Mr. P’s proximity to the lake, she was eager to include those elements in the mural.

“I knew going into it that I had to use the odd structure of the building and location to my advantage. That was my main goal, looking at the structure first and figuring out how to use it as a support system for whatever I was going to paint,” said Nord.

“I knew there was already a super strong horizon line on the building above the windows and underneath the overhangs. I used that structural line as a base to be able to sync the whole bottom of the building as a watery base, and then be able to make the top of the building pop,” she added.

It took Nord a week to cover the entire building with nine gallons of primer that she applied with an industrial sprayer. She used spray paint to create her abstract organic patterns and shapes, which she incorporates in many of her paintings.

“There is so much art that has such serious overtones,” Nord said. “I’d rather give you something to get lost in and have it be a visual playground for your eyes, where you can find something new each time you look at it.”

Nova Czarnecki —Photo Keith Schubert

Nova Czarnecki’s Witness to the Wild is painted on the north wall of Rusty Sprocket Antiques. The mural features a surreal image of woman, who is Czarnecki’s daughter, surrounded by flowers, animals, and other aspects of nature.

Historically, Czarnecki said she has been a more technical painter, which she attributes to her education at Milwaukee Trade & Technical High School (now Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School), where she was one of the first 40 female students admitted. The school was originally named Boys Technology and Trade School when it was established in 1904. “I went there because I wanted to learn commercial art,” said Czarnecki. “And there I was doing the trade for hours every single day.” She learned lettering, brush control, and other technicalities of painting.

After high school, she attended the Milwaukee School of Art (now Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design), where she was able to take all the technical training and apply it in a fine art setting.

Nova Czarnecki’s Witness to the Wild is painted on the north wall of Rusty Sprocket Antiques, 3381-3391 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Czarnecki loves making large figurative paintings, so when she got the offer to create a mural she was excited to expand her scale.

When she proposed her original concept to the BID, she was dealing with the death of her son-in-law related to a domestic violence incident involving her daughter. However, as Czarnecki started to heal, she changed the tone of the mural.

“I wanted the piece to symbolize hope. Everybody has pain, and it is often overwhelming, so I wanted to move on from that and offer people a representation of hope and the beauty of this world,” she said.

Czarnecki intended her mural to illustrate that we are all connected.

It features the head and torso of a female figure. Fish, a snake, coral, and peony blossoms are painted on the torso and in the space surrounding the figure’s head. As the eye travels upward, the space above the figure features peonies and a tropical flower. The progression from ocean creatures to flower blossoms symbolizes how intertwined humans are with Mother Nature, Czarnecki explained.

Jenny Anderson —Photo Keith Schubert

“I want people to know how important it is that we not only take care of each other but that we take care of nature and our world. We are all connected, and if we don’t have our world, we don’t have ourselves,” she said.

Jenny Anderson’s mural, Fade into Blue, was selected for the south wall of the Shape Up Shoppe. Several years ago the building’s cream city brick was painted a glaring blue.

As a child living in Kewaskum, Anderson spent her time painting in her room or walking through the woods. “My mom was always mad at me when I was little because I was always spilling the paint water in my room and messing up the carpet,” she joked.

In high school, she had supportive art teachers who helped her pursue her interest in fine art, which led to attending the American Academy in Chicago.

“[American Academy] was a very strict painting environment. With 15-hour poses and not a lot of room for anything else, I got bored and ended up quitting school for a while. I traveled around, lived in Wales, and when I came home, I went to UWM to finish up my art degree.”

Anderson broke out of her shell there and started to paint expressively. “There was this big face I painted that showed me I could actually paint whatever I want. It was right then when I learned how to take the skills I got at the academy and use them in a more modern and expressive way,” Anderson said.

“[Fade into Blue] represents all the different people in Bay View. The eyes are always important to me in my work, and here the eyes are looking different directions, like how the streets are all angular around this area.”

Aside from the scale of the painting, and painting it freehand, Anderson said her greatest challenge was a limited palette.

“I usually use a lot of different colors and make my own colors when I  am painting with oils. So, this was hard using outdoor latex paint and being limited to just primaries and whites,” she said.

Anderson said outdoor murals readily present art to those who may not frequent galleries and museums. “It allows those people to have conversations about art,” she said, “and these murals serve as destination points for that.”

Jenny Jo —PHOTO Keith Schubert

Nearer the Moon, painted by Jenny Jo Kristan (known professionally as Jenny Jo), is painted on the south wall of Lulu Café & Bar. It features images of five women rendered in flat, monochromatic hues.

“I got into visual art around five years ago. I’ve always done poetry and playwriting, said Jenny Jo, who grew up in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

“When I lived in San Francisco I studied with (artist, poet, and writer) Diane di Prima for nearly 10 years,” she said. “But when I moved back to Wisconsin, the writing stuff was coming to closure for me, and I needed something to do with myself, so I started drawing again,” she added.

She wanted in on Bay View’s art scene. “I started doing prints and t-shirts and it just grew from there,” she said.

“The more I painted, the bigger I wanted to go. Which led to me doing my first mural on Sky High skate shop and to helping with the Black Cat Alley Project.”

She noted Nearer the Moon is the biggest solo project she has made so far.

“[In the mural] I wanted to show something that I’ve been seeing happening in the world and currently in this administration. It reflects what I’ve been seeing, which is women of all ages and nationalities coming together and lifting each other up,” she said. “It’s a piece for sisterhood and camaraderie that says we can accomplish a lot more together than we can divided.

“I think just color and beauty on the walls is fun. There will always be plenty of blank walls but having these murals makes it a fun place to live and creates a sort of positivity ripple in the community.”

Rozalia Hernandez-Singh’s Our Beauty in Strength is painted on the north wall of D14 Brewery and Pub. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Opposite Jenny Jo’s mural on the north wall of D14 Brewery and Pub is Our Beauty in Strength by Rozalia Hernandez-Singh.

As a child, Hernandez-Singh was surrounded by art. Her dad, Reynaldo Hernandez, is a prominent Milwaukee muralist best known for his iconic Mural of Peace painted on the south wall of the Esperanza Unida International Building, 611 W. National Ave.

“My dad would always have artists around the house, so we always had musicians and artists in or around our house. I was really just surrounded by that culture growing up,” she said.

She also took a lot of inspiration from her grandmother, who was a dancer, writer, and art enthusiast. While her dad was harder on her and consistent about making certain she learned her brush strokes and other technical aspects, her grandmother was the one who exposed her to art and helped her learn to appreciate it.

When she was 13, she started helping her dad paint murals and was already thinking about pursuing a career in art. “I never wanted to do murals specifically as an adult, but I knew I wanted to be an artist.”

Rosalia Hernandez-Singh —Courtesy Hernandez-Singh

She made her first mural as a solo artist in 2005 and worked on others before and since.

For inspiration, Hernandez-Singh often looks back on her father’s work.

“All of my dad’s artwork was positive, promoting some sort of peace or historical aspect. I’ve always liked his message. I’m still drawn to art that has a message or some kind of story to it. I think that’s gone away a little bit recently and taken over by people who are just sort of doing murals to add some color, which is nice but I still think we need have some sort of message,” she said.

For the Bay View mural, she originally wanted to paint a superhero as an ode to her daughter’s recent obsession with the topic but abandoned it when she decided it was too tricky because of all the gender biases that still exist today.

“I was playing around with the idea of the tiger and the woman, and everyone I showed it to really liked it, so that’s how I decided on what to do. I also really wanted to play around with colors, which is something different from what I normally do, so it also gave me an opportunity to do that,” she explained.

“The tiger going through the body of the woman represents the strength and spirit of women. The women in my life have lived through some tough lives, but they are the strongest people I know, and I wanted that to show in this piece,” Hernandez-Singh said.

Historic Awakenings, a mural on the north wall of the Bay View Maytag Laundromat, 2510 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue, was completed in January. Depicting buildings, landmarks, and aspects of Bay View’s history, the mural was a joint project of the Bay View Historical Society and the KK BID.

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One Comment on "Bay View keeps pace with Milwaukee’s flourishing mural trend"

  1. Doug Mintline on Tue, 4th Jul 2017 4:11 pm 

    This idea and project turned out great because they banned Zielinski from horning his way in and pushing them around like he does with everybody else.

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