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Four Public Projects Put Art In The Streets, Parks Of Parkville, Frog Hollow


May 30, 2009

Pope Park's grove of trees at the corner of Hamilton Street and Hillside Avenue in Hartford are suddenly happier this week.

Austin artist Matthew Rodriguez's applications of faces on their trunks — big pink lips, gourd-shaped noses and round eyes — have made them a welcoming cartoon-like chorus, not at all the kind of forbidding and gruff anthropomorphic trees that flung apples in "The Wizard of Oz."

As one of four artists invited to Hartford by Real Art Ways to create works for a show opening today called "Real Public," Rodriguez came to town with a box of pre-made smiles, and like a latter-day Keith Haring, is leaving his happy expressions all over town.

Like the other three, he adapts his own style to the locale, in this case the nearby Parkville and Frog Hollow neighborhoods.

Margarida Correia, a New York artist born in Portugal, says she's getting back to her roots by meeting and photographing members of Hartford's tightknit Portuguese community, which stretches out west of Real Art Ways. She's created billboards and banners of photographs of the community and reproduced covers of beloved old fado albums on street posts along Park Street, accompanied by a sound installation.

"I'm learning a lot about my own culture through this community," Correia says.

Puerto Rican muralist Sofia Maldonado, who blends street culture and Latina aesthetics in her designs, has found just the right backdrop for her work: the Pelican Tattoo & Body Piercing building at 577 Park St.

But while decoration is the byword at the Hartford institution, historic preservation codes prevent her from painting directly on the building. So her work was done largely on wooden panels that were being affixed at the storefront Friday morning in preparation for today's opening.

Rain's been a factor in getting all the work complete this week, Real Art Ways director Will K. Wilkins says. Such are the challenges of working outside the controlled conditions of the studio.

For most of the artists, this has been their first foray to Real Art Ways, but British-born artist Satch Hoyt, now based in Berlin, Germany, has been there more than once as a member of the musical band Burnt Sugar. He has since become a visual artist in demand, concentrating in recent years on adapting the ancient mazes known as labyrinths.

His labyrinth in Hartford, in the other end of Pope Park nearer to Park Street and Park Terrace, is marked by a squadron of white poles, connected by clotheslines.

This is not a maze in which to get lost, Hoyt says. Being open and able to see one another in it is a way to recognize and build community. "It encourages eye contact."

There will be further community building in August, he says, when "everybody in the neighborhood will be invited to hang laundry on it. It's another way to be interactive."

Rain hasn't been a factor for Hoyt or Hernandez.

"I love it, are you kidding?" Rodriguez says. "Back in Austin, it's 100 degrees and humid. I'm happy to be here."

The Hartford work is an extension of graffiti he's been doing in New York, albeit illegally, adding faces to traffic control boxes, traffic signs, street-side trash, or painting rainbow faces on walls. His latest trademark is a drop-shaped tri-color candy-corn face.

It's an instinctual thing with him.

"I see a rock on the ground, I'll put a face on it," he says. "I like to put a face on the environment. It lets people know the environment is alive."

Indeed, he's been scrawling his work uninvited back at Real Art Ways' Arbor Street headquarters, where a block of wood near the door now smiles and suggests that people "Cheer Up." Rodriguez's faces have also popped up in the restrooms of the arts center.

Some people have come up to see what he's doing with the trees, and he's added names to some of them based on resemblances to passers-by.

But already the works have had to adapt to the usual uses for the trees. And the handbills stapled to the trees for other purposes serve as square white beards for some characters.

"That's public art," Rodriguez says. "It's a sacrifice. I's like putting out cookies for Santa Claus. You see what happens."

And although most of the public works will be around for this summer at least, Rodriguez painted with water- soluble paint that may last much longer.

"So maybe I'll come back in 20 years and see if they're still there."

•REAL PUBLIC 2009 opens with a reception at 2 p.m. today at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford. A bus tour of the works will run continuously every 10 minutes from 3 to 5 p.m. Bike tours will start at 3 and 4 p.m. For more information go to www.realartways.org/realpublic/index.html or 860-232-1006.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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