Painted with bold strokes of fuchsia, electric blue, and a variety of other expressive shades, an eye-catching mural now decorates the patio wall outside AJ’s NY Pizzeria on Poyntz Avenue.
Brazilian muralist duo Bicicleta Sem Freio (Bicycle Without Brakes) completed the mural Nov. 2 after being invited to Manhattan through a collaboration between Incite MHK, a new group seeking to bring more public art to the Little Apple, and Justkids, a global creative house that connects international artists to public art projects around the world.
The mural, which is named “Anotações,” in Portuguese or “Notes” in English, depicts an image of a young girl reading and writing.
“Bicicleta, they have an imagination that really amazes me every time in their design,” Charlotte Dutoit, founder of Justkids, said. “I think it’s really important to have a woman on the wall on exhibit, and she’s reading so there is a good message of education, et cetera.”
Bicicleta Sem Freio, which comprises artists Douglas de Castro and Renato Perreira, worked throughout the week from the evening of Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, painting in every weather condition Kansas had to offer, which ranged from snow to clear, warm skies.
De Castro said he and Perreira researched Manhattan and the area before drafting the mural. He said he was inspired by the young people drawn here by the university, as well as added a meadowlark, Kansas’ state bird, to give the piece another customized touch.
“It’s something that we are always trying to put in our work, like this sensation of fresh(ness) or youth, and I think that comes out very well with the bright colors,” de Castro said. “It’s something that I want people to see and feel good (about)... We are living in a tough moment in our world right now and it’s nice to smile sometimes.”
De Castro said he and Perreira have worked together for about 15 years, having met in college. The two have worked all around the world, including London, Berlin, Hong Kong, Miami and Los Angeles. Much of their artwork is characterized by bright colors, graphic line work and abstraction, depicting “ironic pop iconography” and a juxtaposition of “tropical rock ‘n’ roll and provocative imagery,” according to their biography.
“(Our style is) something we have been building for more than a decade,” de Castro said.” We really love cartoons, comic books, some artists from art nouveau, posters from the psychedelic era here in the U.S., video games—stuff like that.”
Dutoit said Justkids specializes in public art projects, including murals, performance art and sculptures, because it appreciates the openness of the process. When the company first started in 2014, Dutoit said public art wasn’t as popular as it is now and it was considered illegal in some places. But as public art gained traction in the mainstream community, Dutoit said people actually began asking for it themselves.
“We love being on the street, we love the interaction with the people and we love the fact that it’s for everybody,” Dutoit said. “And we also like the feedback; it’s good to do art where you can have immediate feedback from people. You can see what people like and what they don’t, but there will always be a discussion. I think it’s healthy for a community when there is a discussion because people start to think, ‘OK, we are talking about a place we live in, so what do we want for this place?’”
A push for public art
Jeff Sackrider, one of the founding members of Incite MHK, said the group formed by connecting community members who simply loved art and wanted to bring more of it to Manhattan.
This inaugural project is only the start of a larger conversation of what place public art has in the community, Sackrider said. The mural is intended to bring a new perspective to the city and momentum to what members hope will be a long-term wave of public art.
“Ultimately we want to inspire and incite others to get excited about art and show that Manhattan can have these sorts of things,” Sackrider said. “...We want to capture the community’s attention, and I think that a big, bright, vibrant painting by (Bicicleta Sem Freio) is going to do that.”
Sackrider said Incite’s ongoing goal is to produce a mural project each year, but it is also in the process of working on other public art projects with local artists. He said Incite’s role in these projects is not to be the artists, but rather connect artists with funding sources and spaces to work.
“I feel like our group is really filling a need with the artists, the people who would like to fund art and the people who have property where the art can be produced,” Sackrider said. “We’re tying all those parts together, and we’re doing this to give more local opportunities to artists.”
The majority of the privately funded mural was provided by a $30,000 grant from the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation’s Deihl Community Grants program, which Sackrider said was an integral contribution in bringing Incite’s ideas to fruition.
After connecting with Justkids, who provide expertise specializing in public art, Sackrider said the creative house offered a range of artists for them to choose from and some members of Incite, and representatives from Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau and Downtown Manhattan eventually chose Bicicleta for their style and personalities.
Dutoit said large scale projects like these can help usher in a new dynamic and attraction to certain locations. While Justkids has worked in larger cities like Los Angeles, Dutoit said they have made efforts to bring contemporary public art to smaller cities.
For example, Dutoit said, Justkids has been working on an annual mural festival in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for a few years now. When she and their artists first arrived, the only place to get “a decent cup of coffee” was at a nearby gas station. After a few years of curating artists for the festival, Dutoit said she’s seen three to four coffee shops pop up in the downtown area alone.
“Everything (we do) is due to the fact that if we don’t go there, this meeting between these artists and these people will never happen,” Dutoit said. “If you don’t go there, most of the people there won’t necessarily go to a big city or a museum so I think it’s important, and it really creates a very healthy dynamic in the community with a revitalization of the downtown.”
Sackrider said the group would like to continue these efforts to bring more murals and ideas into the city, while also growing with support from the community.
“I hope that people can appreciate this (project), and people can slow down and enjoy Manhattan and everything that’s great about it and we can just add to it,” he said.