Look Up! Artists Turning Buildings Into Street Art; “Love Montclair” Murals Celebrate Town

They found inspiration in surrounding streetscapes and businesses or iconic Montclair images such as the namesake blooms from Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Then they took their winning mural concepts and started painting.

Maybe you’ve seen them — mural artists busy at work at four sites around Montclair as part of the Montclair Center BID’s ArtConnects 2019 Montclair mural project. The murals all reflect the theme “Love Montclair” in different ways; the murals will be completed by December 2019.

Artist Amol Saraf creating a new mural at 420 Bloomfield Avenue.

Montclair Center BID applied for and was awarded a $25,000 Transformation Grant from the Main Street New Jersey Program. Then the BID matched the $25,000 to fund the $50,000 project, says Jason Gleason, the BID’s acting executive director.

The BID had to work fast — because the grant required the project to be completed by the end of 2019. Some 88 artists submitted mural concepts; submissions came from all over the country. Then, members of the jury –Jeff Beck, owner of East Side Mags; Petia Morozov, founder of Design Week Montclair; Tanya Poteat, member of the Montclair Art Museum’s African American Cultural Committee; Ruth Perretti, local business owner and former senior vice-president of design at Ralph Lauren; Mary Z. Scotti, director of the former 73See Gallery; Gail Stavitsky, chief curator at the Montclair Art Museum; and Sharon Burton Turner, lifetime arts advocate and former chair of Montclair Art Museum African American Cultural Committee — whittled away at submissions to select the top 20 candidates that spoke to the theme. Building owners for the four identified sites were included in the final selection.

montclair mural
Concept art for 180 Bloomfield Ave., created by artist Chady Abousleiman (North Brunswick, NJ) .

The project is the first for Art Connects, a branch of the BID’s visual improvements committee. Gleason says the plan is to continue enhancing public arts. Some 35 different sites in Montclair were identified as possible locations for murals. In addition to murals, Gleason says future public art ventures may also focus on lighting and sculpture.

“We’ll do $20,000 a year for the next four years and we’re going after a grant every year to double that,” says Gleason. “We’re hoping some property owners will want to step up and help too, and really just grow the public art scene in Montclair.”

Gleason says the artists, who are staying in and around Montclair while they finish the mural, have been enjoying meeting people and have been embraced by the community.

Works in Progress

If you walk toward South Park Street from the Crescent Deck, you’ll see artist Jhonattan Arango, of Palm Springs, Florida, at work on the largest of the four murals at 50 Church Street.

Arango’s vision is a juxtaposition of the natural beauty of the irises at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens with the work of William Couper, a sculptor who lived much of his life in Montclair and was a founding member of the Montclair Art Museum.

Arango, who is working on the biggest of the four mural sites, uses a grid and tapes off sections so the paint doesn’t bleed.

Jhonattan Arango’s vision for 50 Church Street

“If you pass by every day, it’s going to look slightly different,” says Arango. “Colors start popping out. If you’re looking at it from the South corner, you start blurring the lines, and then you see the organic conversation itself.”

Arango is looking for local volunteers on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec 1 from 10-4pm) for two Community Painting days. You can help him work on his geometric mural at 50 Church Street and leave your own mark on Montclair. All ages are welcome; wear comfortable painting clothes.

Making Art For Everyone

Artist Holly Rader, who lives in Clifton and has created murals in Manhattan and Paris, was inspired by the retro feel of the antique store and Montclair Book Center (recently compared to Narnia) by her mural site at 219 Glenridge Avenue. She is also a fan of film noir and that informs her work as well as her concept for the mural.

Holly Rader, of Clifton, NJ, created the mural at 219 Glenridge Avenue

Rader says one of the most rewarding aspects of creating the mural was the positive reactions from the store owners and people in the area.

“One of the residents came up and told me that to her it was like a prayer. Then she went and got me a latte,” says Rader. “I had a city bus driver pull the bus over, open the door and say thank you. So that’s why I do it. It’s about bringing art to the public, not just reserved for a gallery or a collector. It’s art for everyone, kids going to school, folks going out for their coffee or walking their dog.”

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