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Family Interrupted Progress (Glass)

Here are some progress shots of the glass work that is going on in my studio, as well as a few shots of the mural in progress both in the studio and at workshops.

Family Interrupted Project

For the past year, I have been working in conjunction with my mural class at Graterford Prison, various ex-offender organizations on the streets and families of the incarcerated throughout the city. The theme of our collaborations, and my subsequent mural explores the impact of incarceration on Philadelphia families. Family Interrupted is my growing multidisciplinary project, that contains the input, stories, and hard work of over 100 contributors as of this date.

Mural Arts and I have partnered with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and their facilitator Anne Shwartzmann, running workshops with groups of people and organizations (such as M.I.M.I.C. based in North Philadelphia) across the city, as well as in the Prison Society,  Graterford, and St Gabriel’s Hall.

These participants are impacted by incarceration at various levels. For example, The Graterford Class and their families are looking at 20 plus years of separation, one man in my class will be behind bars for his 40th year this year. These men have seen the face of their entire family change in that time, and yet there are dedicated family members that frequently visit and write out of loyalty, and responsibility. In St Gabriel’s Hall, youth can qualify for weekend furloughs to see their families, and then go back to jail during the week.

Since the mid 90’s only 5 men have ever received commutations on their life sentences,  we have worked with 3 of these men for this project as well as men who have served their time and have been released.  They have shared their experiences about the reintegration process within their communities and their own families; most memorably to an audience of the teens and young adults of Mural Arts’ Youth Violence Reduction Program. These forums were not the only way in which people can become involved in the project.

The Guild program under Janice Smith has constructed 12 mailboxes, painted by myself and the Graterford program. These boxes are placed in various Prison visit waiting rooms, the Prison Society, Main branch of the Public Library, City Hall, The Gallery at Market East and in the neighborhood of the mural. Each box comes with a questionnaire that invites the participant to share their experiences in having a loved one or family member incarcerated. We are aiming to hear directly from the families while they are waiting for their visitation, a time when they may just want to vent, and be heard. We also look to hear from a broader audience that may or may not be affected by this at all. Each box advertises the project, provides pamphlets with resources, points to the project website, and provides the following statistics as food for thought…

Did you know?

  • One in every 28 adults were in prison, jail, or in probation or parole in PA in 2009 (Pew Report, 2009)
  • There are more than 1.7 million children in the United Stated with an incarcerated parent including one in 15 African American children, one in 42 Hispanic children and one in 111 caucasian children. (The Sentencing Project 2009)
  • Over half of incarcerated fathers reported that they were the primary source of financial support for their children prior to their incarceration. (Glaze and Maruschak Incarceration and the Family: A review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families, 2008)

The third way people can participate, even long after the mural is finished, is through the website I created The site was devised as a companion piece that runs concurrently through the life of the mural project and beyond. It acts as a way to provide people with a forum, while at the same time give an outside observer insight into their experiences. The site also provides resources to the families, as well as audio and video from our workshops and updates and press about the project. The site will live on long after the project ends, and my goal is to have the conversation continue. I’ve always searched for a way to include the outside observer during my seven years working in Graterford. I’ve always wished that there could be a way that more people could hear the results of our workshops, read some of the writing, be moved by people’s stories in the same way we are moved that night.  I feel that by recording our sessions and posting the audio to our user generated site, we’ve made a big step in the right direction.

My design took its inspiration from all of the families and people who opened themselves up, opened their homes up to me, brought their children, and shared their stories. The mural will be painted on the corner of Germantown Ave and Dauphin. The “w” shaped wall lends itself nicely to the narrative of the design. The “incarcerated” right side of the wall is tucked slightly away from view at first glance, the full story truly opens up to you once you get closer. It contains the faces and stories of ex-offenders and those still behind bars. Its about how their incarceration affected and forever warped their families, and the great sense of loss that takes place when loved ones pass on. The “family” face of the site shows the words, images, and thoughts from the men, women, and children left behind to carry on. Newly christened breadwinners raising a family on their own and maintaining relationships across great distances to keep the family together. Both sides look and reach toward each other over the center of the design that depicts visiting room life, and its fragmented moments of family interaction. These scenes are interspersed among vignettes of the media, government, and general public opinion which can serve to further complicate that limited interaction.

The church windows (which mimic the church building next to the wall) and the silhouetted figures within each portrait are currently being cut from Stained glass and mirror in my studio.

The design contains a large amount of scannable codes that anyone with a smart phone can scan, using their phone’s camera to have an enhanced experience of the mural. These codes are text based and directly linked to the and its content. A passer by can scan a code within the mural and be taken to a number of audio clips from our workshops with the Prison Society. You can hear these stories straight from the person. A number of codes take you to pages of the site. Most notably, you can even be taken to the “Share Your Story” page of the site and contribute on the spot! I feel that the timing is right and there is a real ability to interact with the mural, listen and  learn, and then respond.

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The Last Responders take the Seville Mural Tour

The Last Responders team took a brief rest from travelling across Europe as part of the Timbuktu Challenge to take in a tour of the Seville murals. Here is a shot my good friend Mike Reali took of my Mural with the team’s ambulance.

The Timbuktu Challenge is a 4100 mile trek from London through Europe and Northern Africa to Mali. At the end of the rally, the Ambulance as well as the other teams vehicles will be donated to local organizations. Mike and his teammates spent the better part of this last year raising funds for the Ambulance, and getting it shipped overseas. As of this writing, the team is in Morocco. You can follow their progress and learn more about the team HERE. They use a tracker on the site, keeping everyone up to speed.

Good luck guys!

We Got the Band Back Together, Maaaaaaan!

This week I got to work with my two favorite partners in crime to install a piece of a mural we completed over 2 years ago. The Citywide Mural that Michelle Ortiz, Kien Nguyen and I designed, was temporarily displayed in its entirety (29’x105′) in 3 different locations: 30th St Station, The Gallery @ Market East, and one night in Loews Hotel.

After a period of time, it was always the intention to break the work up into 7 pieces and install them throughout the city. The first section is now up at Ana B. Pratt Elementary School on 22nd Street in North Philly. When all is said and done, these 7 sections will lie within a half hour tour route. Hopefully by this time next year, the entire project will be permanent.

Huge HUGE thanks go out to Deborah Zuchman who had the herculean task of finding a home for 7 giant vertical mural strips in a city with an abundance of horizontal walls.

Here is a shot of the complete design. (click to enlarge each section)

a temporary mural gets an extended stay….

…while a permanent mural’s life gets cut short.
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Great news this month, my temporary project “Changing Seasons, Lasting Symbols” located in the courtyard of City Hall, was set to come down after a full year, but it looks like the mural will live on into 2012. Kien Nguyen and I had planned to salvage as much of the 3200 square foot project as possible, while the rest would be scrapped or reused for future construction sites. But the good people of Urban Outfitters (who we have collaborated with in 2009) have stepped in and saved the day. Within the next week or so, our mural will be disassembled and moved down Broad Street to the Navy Yard and serve as a another construction blockade well into Spring/Summer 2012. A huge thank you to Lauren and everyone at Urban Outfitters for taking an interest in the work. I will post pics as this develops.

The bad news comes in the form of vacant lot development in Logan, right in front of my “Restoration” mural. (a.k.a. the one that took a year and a half with the 17ft high relief triangle covered in stained glass) I’m really saddened to hear this news, a lot of people had their hands in making this project possible, both behind the scenes and in workshops and classrooms. We even partnered with the school across the street, doing a mini mural with the 3rd grade while giving presentations of our mural, explaining the images and symbols, and how they relate to Logan. It kills me to think that it only lived for 3 years, but thats how it goes. Restoration is just one in a growing list of murals I’ve seen get whitewashed, torn down, or built in front of this year.

Its a good thing I documented the hell out of it… and made this interactive page.
Restoration: A Closer Look

Arte Para Todos 2010 Sevilla, Spain

Photo by Caleb Neelon

Photo by Caleb Neelon

In September 2010 I travelled to Sevilla, Spain to participate in Arte Para Todos. Art For All was a two week public art event in which 40 artists, muralists and sculptors from all over the world came to transform the neighborhood of Poligono San Pablo into a gallery of international public work.

Organized by Peter Claesson of Indigoincoming, the objective was to “offer the opportunity for citizens to enjoy public art, as well as to offer the city an improvement of the public spaces that invites us to reflect and transmit positive messages”. The theme for the event was a broad idea of “Global Community, Local Culture.” We were encouraged to think of people envisioning solutions to global problems on the local level; as well as the UN’s Millenium Development Goals.
The following two links go deeper into the UN’s Development Goals, and the Arte Para Todos website.

My mural design has its roots in the practice of Biomimicry. Biomimicry is a fundamental shift in scientific thinking pioneered by biologist Janine Benyus in which one “borrows nature’s design principles to create more-sustainable products and processes.” The main figure in the design finds herself trying to improve upon a solar cell. Scientists have gone the route of Biomimicry by studying photosynthesis in order to create a better solar cell.

The Imagery throughout the design depicts natural elements and occurrences whose properties have been closely studied by scientists in effort to mimic their effects. For example; Coral Reefs have taught us how to reduce the CO2 that is released during the process of making cement. Hawks quickly attain great heights with little energy through riding pockets of air called “thermals”. The strength of spiderwebs can inform improvements in engineering. Gecko feet are being closely studied to devise ways to improve glue adhesion through more natural means.

The forest scene on the right recalls Benyus’ quote “we need to develop roots and habitate symbiotically where we are.” Benyus explains that organisms in a mature forest are very efficient. They make the most of the limited resources and develop cooperative relationships.

The design itself is based on the Fibonacci Spiral, a mathematically proportionate pattern that regularly occurs in nature.

The embedded slideshow below comes from my main page, it goes into the making of the project in detail. The overall mural took 2 weeks to complete. We worked hard every day, to see our individual projects through. Spain was an unforgettable experience. I look forward to the next Arte Para Todos.

Ridge on the Rise, Further and Further up!

A few years back when the Comcast Tower was being built in Center City, some of the construction workers started taking pictures from the top of the building. One of the shots, pointed towards North Philly, picked up my “Ridge on the Rise” Mural.

My wall from the top of the tallest building in the city.

I would also like to note that this same group of construction workers also attached a tiny statue of William Penn to the top of the tower, thereby eliminating his Curse on the city, and allowing a Phillies Championship in 2008.

I figured that would be about the highest point this mural would ever be photographed. That is until my good friend and former partner in crime Jay Slowik took a helicopter ride over the city and sent me this…

It can’t get much higher than this right? Next time I fly I’m gonna be on the lookout for Ridge Ave. 2.0

I spent the last few months of the year doing something I haven’t done in well over 2 years. UPDATE THE MAIN PAGE! Actually I did more than just update. I decided to go ahead and redo the whole thing. Having the old site for 3 or so years, I’ve had a wishlist of things that I wanted to see implemented into the page. I decided that the best way to do it, was to learn more about flash and figure it out on my own.

Much of November and December was spent with me working in Flash, and figuring my way out through all of the things that I wanted.

I trimmed a lot of the fat from the last site, sections that wouldn’t see regular updates. I refocused everything into 3 main categories, “murals”, “glass”, and “video”.

Each of the color glass fragments with a photo on top will take you to a slideshow of captioned images of different Mural and Glass projects.

The slideshows took up the most time.

For the video section I have larger and better quality clips.

The subcategories across the top feature usual info about me such as my resume, bio and contact (drop a line, feedback welcome). Then I added a few new sections, “news”, “tour” and “interact”.

The “news” link brings you a popup with a real time blog headline feed. Whenever I update my blog, it updates. It also features a slideshow that automatically updates itself whenever I upload a photo to flickr.

The “tour” link takes you to information on how to see a virtual tour of my murals on Google Earth. A tour thats gotten more interesting now that I have some work in Sevilla, Spain.

The “Interact” tab takes you to a series of flash based pages that break down some of my murals into painstaking detail image by image, piece by piece.

I’m happy to see the site through to the end, and I feel that I won’t be slacking on the updates with this one as much. If you have checked out my old site, I’ve basically added over 12 new slideshows of my work from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

Check it out! And be sure to view everything in fullscreen mode.

WordPress + Gooder!

I am spending the winter completely redesigning my main site and blog. Everything is changing from the ground up and I have a lot of things that I need to post. Most importantly, I need to post images and video of my recent mural project in Seville, Spain.

Before I get to all of that, I need to get the important stuff out of the way. The new blog link is All of my site links now point to this url, so if you have a bookmark, Please update it.

Here is the new feed as well

I promise this is the last move this blog will make. The first time it was out of my hands, Blogger forced me to do it. This time, I decided to use WordPress and migrate everything there. WordPress has a cleaner interface, with more options for me as an Admin, and an excellent smartphone app, so I will be able to make complex on the spot updates without having to go back and reformat the posts. Working on the Mural Corps blog last summer really opened me up to WordPress as an alternative, now I finally have some time to implement it.

I am looking for a few people to help me beta test my new site, I am almost finished the main interface in flash and I’m looking to iron out some of the kinks. If you are interested, float me an email

The City Hall Courtyard Mural

This summer I teamed up with Citywide partner Kien Nguyen once again to create a 3200 sq ft Mural that is being installed in City Hall’s courtyard.

The mural was funded mostly by Kelly/Maiello Architects, the firm that has been in charge of the city hall restoration for the past 13 years. For the next year or so, they will be restoring the south facade of the courtyard, and many partition walls have been built to house their equipment. The walls reach 8 feet high and all together measure 400 feet wide.

Kien and I took tours of the City Hall building to brainstorm for ideas. I HIGHLY recommend seeing the mural and then taking a tour of the building. The 1 1/2 hour tour is given daily at 12:30pm sharp, the office is found to the right of our green “East Wall”. The tour office’s number is 215-686-2840. The tour highlights the symbolism and meaning behind the building’s layout as well as the 160 reliefs and sculptures found throughout. We felt that our design should focus on these same things.

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Our design puts a contemporary spin on the many relief and free standing sculptures scattered throughout the architecture of City Hall. We reinterpret their poses though Philadelphia’s diverse residents. We consider the complex symbolism and meanings of the sculptures and the significance of the four directions they face.

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The compass on the floor of City Hall’s courtyard plots out Center City’s major squares. Our design brings these squares to life as realistic panoramas in colors reminiscent of the four seasons.

The patterns specific to each season are taken from motifs found throughout City Hall’s decorative interior.

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Pillars and archways occupy the corners of each major wall using Calder’s sculptures of people spanning the four corners of the globe.

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Imagery from Philadelphia’s major public parks can be found within the archways. For example the west wall depicts Clark Park, and the East Wall has images of Penn Treaty Park, which the statue of William Penn is pointing to.

This design brings into focus the sculpture, imagery, and patterns found throughout Philadelphia’s City Hall Building which can otherwise go overlooked.

Once the design was agreed upon, we had to move quickly in order to get everything started. The entire month of June was spent drawing the East and West Walls of the project. Those walls broke down into 40 8’x5′ panels that would be projected and drawn in great detail.

We began the West Wall in the studio during July, the East wall drawings were sent to a summer Mural class held at Audenreid High School. The class of 50 youth spent their summer blocking the backgrounds of the east wall and under painting of all its figures.

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Once July started we gained 3 interns and two volunteers. Two of our interns, Latasha and Matt were former Mural Corps students, they were the standouts in their respective classes. Matt was a former student of Kien. Julia was our other intern, who has spent most of her life making art all over the world most recently Mexico and Burkina Faso. Julia painted 4 of the 6 mini landscapes within the archways and several of the mural’s figures.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we were assisted by The Mayor’s daughter Olivia and her good friend Jenny. They braved the heat of the studio for an entire month and helped block in portions of the west wall.

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By mid August we were finishing up the East wall. On the 23rd we installed all 40 panels. We blocked out 2 days for the install and found money in the Audenreid Budget to hire 5 of their best students. The 5 would help us install the panels and assist in the studio painting the north wall for the rest of the summer. I like to refer them as the 3rd wave of assistants.

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Currently we are busy working on the South Wall in Studio, it consists of 25 panels Many of which have been worked on by the men in my Graterford Prison Class. I’m excited to get those panels back so I can post photos. The figures and backgrounds look incredible.

We are looking to install the final 2 walls on September 15th and 16th in the City Hall Courtyard. If you are around please stop by and say hi.

Once the project is up it will have about a year to a year and a half on the site before construction is completed. We are hoping that some of the panels could be auctioned off for fundraising purposes. The fundraising could benefit Mural Arts and future restoration projects in city hall.

oh and one last thing…. here is a video I made for the Audenried students showing them how we work with the underpainted figures.

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