Last autumn, Rochester witnessed the annual summer street art festival, Wall Therapy, bust out of its regular July programming with an off-season "Fall Therapy" mural-making series. After a dormant winter, Wall Therapy will present yet another break-out painting session this week. "Writes of Spring" will focus specifically on letterform graffiti, and will feature an international group of artists representing various styles and different traditions within the genre.
If anyone expected Wall Therapy's continuous projects to grow stale once the original shine of its novelty wore off, think again. In the past, events have showcased a variety of muralists working in a range of styles. Moving forward, organizers plan to host highly curated events focused on different themes. This mini springtime fest, held Friday-Sunday, April 25-27, will spotlight artists working specifically with typography, but this provides an opportunity to showcase the wide gamut of styles and traditions within that constraint.
This textural manifestation of the festival is particularly close to the hearts of two of Wall Therapy's main men. "I grew up among writers and above the Pitkin Ave Subway Yard in East New York, Brooklyn," says Wall Therapy founder, Dr. Ian Wilson. "My older brother was an active writer on the 'A' and 'CC' subway lines during the early- to mid- 1980's, so I've always been aware of graffiti since about age 6. I remember being absolutely in awe of the lettering."
That fascination with graffiti lettering, and with the culture itself, has only grown. "I first tried my hand at writing around 1987, however it wasn't until college in New Orleans that I really explored all aspects of the art as a writer." he says. "In many ways, curating this Wall Therapy event around type and letterforms represents a nod to the roots of the culture that I love."
The enthusiasm of Erich Lehman, lead festival organizer and director of 1975 Gallery, comes not from a personal background in graffiti, but from his education and work as a designer, and his fondness for the history of letterform. "I'm a type nerd through and through, so I'm really excited about this," he says.
Six artists will paint the town this weekend. New York-based Queen Andrea is a typographer who crafts unique letters and often communicates the wit of hip-hop culture in her work, Wilson says. Max Ripo, a New York transplant to Barcelona, "depicts lettering interwoven with iconic and graphic motifs, which gives his letters a unique texture," Wilson says.
Wilson brought Italian painter and sculptor Peeta to Rochester in summer 2011. Peeta painted a wall on North Clinton Avenue (which has since been repainted) at the annual B-Boy BBQ hosted by Rochester's FUA Crew. His skill at imbuing his highly abstracted lettering with dimensionality constantly tricks the eye, and his paintings look nearly as three-dimensional as his kinetic, neo-Futurist sculptures.
"With a technique that is inimitable in its precision and detail, New York-based Faust is arguably one of the premier letterers of our generation," Wilson says. The artist is known worldwide for his impressive hand-style, "which he often translates to a large format without loss of detail," Wilson adds.
According to Wilson, Niels "Shoe" Meulman is perhaps the foremost proponent of 'calligraffiti,' who renders calligraphic letters on a large scale as if he was wielding a pen. His work reaches all the way back to European Medieval history, pulling forward the calligraphic forms on a totally radical scale, Lehman says.
The featured local artist is Bones, a member of Rochester's 25-year-old FUA crew, whose hand at letterforms, Wilson says, is technically superb and disciplined. "Bones' work reminds me of old skateboard graphics, the things I used to love growing up in the 1980s skate scene," Lehman says. "It just has this rich, organic, slimy feel to it, and it looks so alive."
Through Wall Therapy, a host of local and international artists have created more than 50 murals, transforming Rochester's buildings in the Market District, the East End, the St. Paul Quarter, the South Wedge Neighborhood, the El Camino Trail, and other various spots around the city. "We will be focusing our efforts for Writes of Spring on the Atlantic Ave corridor immediately north of the freight train yard," Wilson says.
Though this special event focuses on the art of graffiti writers and text, breaking from the past focus on muralists and images, many building owners have learned to trust the quality of work offered by Wall Therapy. "The approach to property owners was the same as we've used previously," Wilson says. "We show examples of an artist's work and if there is a positive resonance, we give a new life and purpose to walls."
"I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that what's perceived as 'graffiti' is appreciated differentially. In other words, it doesn't have the same appeal of previous Wall Therapy art," Wilson says. "One of my sincere hopes for Writes of Spring is to foster an appreciation for art which is text-based, possibly graffiti, and produced by artists whose technical skill rivals anything we've seen thus far."
Besides adding to the city's growing collection of murals, there is an opportunity for education here. Writes of Spring "is a demonstration of the range of art that is promoted by the Wall Therapy team," Wilson says.
"Unbeknownst to many in our community, some of the best artwork in the public space exists along North Clinton Avenue," and was created by home-grown artists, he adds. Wall Therapy aims to prove that the artwork created during Writes of Spring can viably exist in other quadrants the city, as well.
This is only the top of mural season, and the beginning of what could become a year-round endeavor. "What you'll see this summer and beyond is more thematic work," Wilson says. For example, the July festival will focus on portraiture. The aim is to ultimately create murals throughout the year, as weather permits. In addition, Wall Therapy organizers would like to sponsor artist talks and otherwise engage the community with local and visiting artists.
For more information, visit wall-therapy.com or follow @walltherapyny on Twitter.