Artist and native Brooklynite Katie Merz recently covered a crumbling but landmarked property in Clinton Hill with one of her signature black and white hieroglyphic murals. The house at 73 St. James Place doesn’t look like much after a fire more than a decade ago, but it is one of the oldest houses in the landmark district, probably dating from around 1852, according to the designation report. A Brownstoner reader noticed the mural and sent us some photos. We got in touch with Merz.
Brownstoner: How did this mural come about? Did you approach the property owner with this idea or vice versa?
Merz: No, I didn’t approach anyone. It came about accidentally, but as soon as I saw that building I couldn’t let it go. My friends live down the street. I was visiting them and on my way home I saw the building. I noticed that the top back part was roofing paper. I never see this material in New York. I was intrigued.
When did the mural go up?
About a month ago on a Tuesday. It was taken down completely the next day by an architect down the street who had seen it and was concerned that some pieces were blowing away. He took the whole thing down and rolled it up and kept it at his house and called me up to come get it so I could redo it again with a better staple gun.
What inspired this particular subject here? What is the mural about? I see references to Trump, Russia, democracy…
It is about now, politics, the wheel we are on, our American psyche, money, gentrification and the overtaking of our minds by buzz words and imagery. We are limited yet endlessly bombarded at the same time. That is my piece: limited (black and white) and excessive (no center, nonstop drawing, nowhere to focus, overall run-on sentences of meanings and imagery). It’s like a Rorschach test. You find your own story in the excess.
Did you use white paint on black roofing paper? Is that a typical medium for you?
White oil stick and black roofing paper. I used it by default. I was at a Nebraska farm residency and it was the only material out there I could use besides tagging on trains or old steel drums. Home Depot, $23 dollars for a huge roll and $5 dollars for an oil stick. It’s low budget — all I need is my mind and $30 to change a site.
How long do you expect the piece will be up?
I thought it would come down right away. In a way it was an offering. If someone had the energy and desire to take o strip down then that’s the way it goes. I had the same energy and desire to put it up and I thought it could work this same way on the other end. It is a gift to the building, the block, to anyone who sees it and stops, it’s a momentary gift to Brooklyn and to the neighborhood and to the daring to do it. My mom was an architect. She always thought that graffiti was urban beautification (this was in the 1970s) and I completely agree. In a way what I am doing is a second architecture without a client or money or building code.
Do you know anything about what’s happening with the building or the owner’s intentions?
I don’t know anything about the building or the owner. I used the paper so it could be easily taken down — not meaning to harm the building in any way. It’s not paint so no one has to get out a can of acetone and wipe it off. You can take a slice home and enjoy it or leave it up for the neighborhood to enjoy. It’s democratic, non harmful art of sorts. I hope. It looked like the renovation was endlessly stalled so I stepped in for a minute…
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