Public art is something every city should do – it’s a simple idea, too often overlooked. So when a small city makes the effort, it’s worth taking note. New London CT is not far from my home, and its old streets are alive with murals ranging from very good to so-so. I thought I’d take a look at some of the better examples. A list of the murals in town – most of them, anyway, can be found here.
We started by checking out the Hygienic Art Gallery, which regularly holds eclectic exhibitions and serves as the center of the town’s art experience. The current show, Beyond Labels, highlighted art by Connecticut artists of Hispanic/Latino heritage. My favorites in that show were paintings by Lisie Orjuela. But this post is about murals, so let’s hit the streets. The Hygienic boasts two murals, one on either side of the building, so that one faces the street, the other the Hygienic’s art park. A very understated mural, Faire Harbor Days, (2010) by Lynda Wesley McLaughlin, is across the street from the Goddess of Art mural shown above.
The second Hygienic mural brings up an issue I have with public art: signage. The gates you see are dotted with plaques crediting donors who helped make the fence and gates and art park possible. But credit for the artists? Perhaps there is a label inside the park, but I there ought to be one on the street side. Some of New London’s murals are labelled, but they all ought to be.
Not everything worth looking at is a work of art, though: I loved the juxtaposition of these two stickers.
There was a Shepherd Fairey “Obey” sticker nearby, but these were the most eye-catching.
Sometimes a new work creeps in, and might only be there temporarily. I love the silhouettes on this hotel, (artist unknown) but it’s the giant woman’s face visible through the arches at bottom that lend surrealism to the scene:
And then accessibility can be an issue. There is a Sol LeWitt mural, Wall Drawing #1102:Bars Of Color, but it’s in the Crocker House Apartments building, and, while it is visible from the street, you can’t get close without knowing someone who lives there. The rental agent might let you in, but he/she was not there when I visited, and it’s not a sure thing.
Songs of Our City (2012) by Qimin Liu & Mark McKee with students from Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, is a fine group of portraits of musicians. It stands out, fills the space nicely, and it’s even labelled.
Hard Hat Painters (2012) by Michael McNabney & Troy Zaushny seems hard to comprehend from a distance, until the whimsy becomes clear: these hard hats are spray-painting fish and brush-painting anemones (at least I think they’re anemones). It’s a cute idea, nicely handled.
The grandfather of all murals here are inside the Post Office: a group of WPA murals painted in 1938 by Thomas Sergeant LaFarge (1904-1943): Early Morning Watch, Cutting-In, and Aloft, which present scenes from New London’s long-gone industry, whaling. Fortunately, LaFarge has rendered these with delicacy and grace, so that at a cursory glance you might miss the whale being sliced to pieces. LaFarge is most interested in the perspectives up and along the rigging, and he slightly exaggerates the hands and feet of the sailors to emphasize the physicality of their work. They’re worth seeking out.
These are most of the best murals in town; the full list is 16 items. Check it out if you are in New London in good weather. Does your town have any public art? If not, why not?