Our director Kathleen Warren asked muralist Erik Burke about his experience and vision with the epic Richmark Mural on Capitol Hill this summer – and well, he’s good with words, so here’s what he said. There’s a lot of meat to this mammoth mural! Erik’s words below:
“What I found interesting with this mural and murals in general is their subtle yet quick ability to transform people. While the wall is the most obvious object of alteration the people coming in contact with the space took on the larger change. The transformative powers of color, form, and composition is a powerful thing (I suppose only when aligned correctly like when the ghostbusters cross the streams from their proton packs). Take for example Bill (the property owner), a skeptic and naysayer [of our original sketch] who became upbeat and glassy-eyed within a week. Employees of the factory, who saw us initially as flighty and lazy artists were amazed at our work ethic and began documenting the days work. Neighborhood regulars would routinely stop by with encouraging word. A drab block of endless mauve became a new visual soundtrack for about 68 steps.
The overarching topic du jour for people on the Hill is the g word. Glaring and grossly overused – Gentrification. So it is easy for the public to view large public works like this as a real estate developers Trojan Horse. And for good reason. Much transformation has happened up there and very little to the benefit of the long-time inhabitants of Cap Hill. So it was with great sensitivity that we entered into this work trying to stimulate not dominate. However this mural, this 5-lane pile up of color was causing a lot of rubbernecking. Luckily to the effect of joy and wonder instead of being a threat. The sheer scale was threatening enough to us as the artists dangling thirty feet up in power lines but every time someone would walk by they would lighten our mood with affirming expressions.
But what does it say? The question everyone was asking. Once the initial idea was leaked to the press, Bill had SEVERAL talks with me about not wanting to make any political or social commentary that would cause any form of controversy. His request was directly in opposition to our intention to abstractly write “READ UP HANDS DOWN”. So to respect his wishes, keep the press on their toes, and have the mural take on a deeper meaning we had to change the saying completely. We had already finished the R E A D and on the opposite side of the wall the O and W. How could we make this work without starting over? Earlier when I reached out to Read for his involvement in the project I mentioned the proximity to the Police precinct and wishing to make something addressing them subtly and poetically since they were by fault our permanent audience. When he came up with Read up hands down I felt it was perfect, albeit a little heavy handed (no pun intended). Of the few Readeresque sayings I brought to the table my favorite was READ WHAT YOU THROW. As if meant to be, the phrase perfectly fit the letters we had already painted and also seemed to be loosely phrased for numerous interpretations.
To me ‘read what you throw’ is a remix of ‘reap what you sow’. While ‘reap what you sow’ speaks to the affects of dealing with the aftermath of ones doing ‘read what you throw’ acts as a precursor stating to practice what you preach. Since the phrase is a mashup of reading and throwing it’s only natural to think of books. You read books and you get the book thrown at you. By splicing these meanings together we hoped to speak to the police, the policy-makers, and the people. We could all do a little better at reading from our proclamations.
Lastly the use of abstract typography as the main element in this mural connects to the varying ‘types’ of people that make-up the diversity of Capitol Hill. By creating a mural fueled by varying typography we hoped to illuminate the strength in no type, in all type, in experimental type. Hence the creation of a 35 foot tall H using nothing more that a power drill, a can of spray paint, and duct tape.”