Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Motivated by Loss

Death may not seem like a topic for motivation. However, the emotions we experience with the loss of someone in our family a friend or just someone we spent time with are powerful currents of perception. We can’t avoid the loss of people in our lives just as we cannot escape our own departure. It is a shared perspective, but a truly unique, experience. It is an emotional cocktail of grief & relief when we say Rest in Peace.

For me, imagery plays an important part in that grieving process. When I look at the world around me I see transitions that I can relate to the cycle of life. The Natural World provides some comfort when I see all around me the passing of one phase of life leading to a new beginning.

 It doesn’t matter if it is natural or tragic, sudden or prolonged, in another part of the world or on our street; when we hear the news of the passing of someone that was a part of our lives we react to a new reality. Our lives do go on but with something missing.What remains are memories. We look to our past experiences thru a curtain of loss while remembering the moments we shared.

I find solace in water.Constantly in motion, rain, clouds & streams evolve as they journey to the sea. The diversity is amazing just like the experiences in our lives &those we shared those times with. There is no returning to the moments of life that have drifted by.

After hearing a National Park Ranger say “Water Always Wins” I have often found myself repeating it. It is also a metaphor for the fact that death is an inevitable part of life. I see each of our lives flowing downstream into something larger than itself.

Some find comfort in the dogma of religion. It offers a path to understanding questions, which have no answer. Our grief is enveloped with families & friends in a communal ritual of customs to honor the life of the deceased. Time does not heal all wounds. The new reality has a scar we can’t ignore.

The inspiration I get from death does not have a direct impact on my photography. It has more of an impact on how I will try to use the days ahead of me with the memories of people I have lost.  I try to see things in ways others may ignore. With my camera, which is an extension of my mind’s eye, I try to capture images that show the world I am living in. It can make my life seem fuller. Calm waters.