At first glance, the newly painted mural on 250 North 10th St., a luxury apartment building in Williamsburg appears to be nothing new under the sun. Especially the sun that shines on this neighborhood, which has evolved into an outdoor art gallery in recent years. Its concrete structures double as canvases, which are irresistible to street artists and graffiti writers. Additionally, gentrification has propelled the production of residential and commercial buildings. Often, it is artists with a street background who are enlisted to bedeck these new giants.
When we walked by the mural last Tuesday, it had just been completed by a team of painters. Two young women were taking photographs. Curious, we asked if they knew anything about it. Turns out they were from LCOR, the development company that put up building. And the artist behind the work? Mr. Brainwash, the enigmatic artist who first commanded our attention in Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop.
The mural actually looks out over Roebling Street. The idea was to create a tribute to John Augustus Roebling, an architectural pioneer and designer of the Brooklyn Bridge and his son, Charles Roebling, who completed one of the US’s oldest suspension bridges. When LCOR put word out that it wanted to collaborate with an artist on the project, Mr. Brainwash jumped at the chance. The Paris-born artist says he owes much to NYC. In 2010, NYC was the site for his second major exhibition Icons. So to give back to the city that helped shape his career and style seemed only natural.
In his design, Mr. Brainwash set out to capture the diverse spirit and history of Brooklyn. At a distance, it looks like a monumental collage of sepia toned photographs and newspaper clippings. Pink paint is splashed across the surface. Upon closer view, stoic portraits of Roebling Sr. and Jr. mingle with comic book heroes and Warholian soup cans. The splashed pink paint spells out “Life is Beautiful,” Mr. Brainwash’s mantra that was also the title of his 2008 debut exhibition. By merging a pop-art aesthetic with simulated paper ephemera from the 1800s and introducing historical figures to pop culture icons, the piece connects the past with present.
At a time when building murals are trending to the point of becoming generic, 250N10’s seems more genuine and with purpose. Yes, the structure itself signals Williamsburg’s shifting demographic and commercial interest in street art. However, it makes a sincere gesture in remembering Brooklyn’s founders whose hard work served to establish the borough as one of the most dynamic and culturally diverse places in the world.
Learn more about Mr. Brainwash’s work, art and gentrification and its impact on our Williamsburg tour.