Fri | Sep 30, 2016

Street art - Transforming walls into conversation pieces

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The facade of Waterlane Gallery, downtown Kingston. Photos by Amitabh sharma.
Rosemarie Chung looks a t a mural cone by her studio.
From present to the past. Kimani Beckford meticulously paints a story with delicate brush strokes on a mural at Ardenne Prep School, St. Andrew.
From left: Tariq Osbourne, Kemar Edwards, Anton Newland, and Sheldon Blake at Studio 174, Osbourne, Edwards and Blake were part of a group that painted murals in South Camp Road and Knutsford Boulevard opposite the Wyndham Kingston.
all we are saying is give peace a chance. Murals painted post incursion at Tivoli Gardens
Murals painted post-incursion at Tivoli Gardens.-Photo by amitabh sharma

Amitabh Sharma, Contributor

On a hot, sunny afternoon, Kimani Beckford dipped a brush into a can of paint and with meticulous, subtle strokes streaked it across a wall. An artist he is, transforming the mundane of brick and concrete into a story board.

"This is a story being told," he said, wiping sweat from his brow, "from the future going to the past."

As part of project for Ardenne Prep School in St Andrew, Beckford, through his painting, is showcasing the transition of time.

"Murals change the feelings about where you are. They allow people to dream and to take them to a different space," says Rosemarie Chung, painter and owner of Studio 174 in downtown Kingston.

Chung, whose studio has been commissioned to paint murals on different locations across Kingston, explained that murals were "a strong response to the society's issues and communicate to the people". This resonates in a mural with a giant heart and hand imprints made by children embedded in it on a wall in Tivoli Gardens - an appeal for peace and to shun violence.


For her projects, Chung says, she chose inner-city youth to express themselves through the paint brush. "It gave them a chance to hone their creativity. They were very happy to get a positive response from the public, feel empowered, and also become agents of change."

Tariq Osbourne, Kemar Edwards, and Sheldon Blake were part of that creative process, being a part of a team that painted the Digicel Foundation-commissioned mural at South Camp Road and at Knutsford Boulevard, New Kingston.

"Painting the wall at Knutsford Boulevard was a very gratifying experience," the trio said. "People would walk past and take pictures, tell about themselves. It became a conversational piece. They would give compliments, which made us feel proud."

Apart from emanating social messages, murals, Beckford and Chung say, tell a story, as well as beautify and showcase art as part of a bigger vision.

"I am compelled to paint more," says Beckford, who represented Jamaica in the UNESCO Art Camp Programme in Andorra, Spain, in 2010. "It has always been amazing to see how art transforms and influences a space, environment, and persons who engage."

But, Chung says, there are restraints to be followed. "Murals can be a means of expression for the first-time artist, but one also has to bear in mind that the wall is not owned by the artist, but is someone else's property, so the work has to be done according to the specifications."

Also, whatever is being painted is in a public space and one has to be careful not to offend the sentiments of the people, she adds.

Painting a mural is a multipronged, labour-intensive process involving meticulous planning and execution. First, the space on which the mural will be painted has to be examined, measurements taken, and the surface quality has to be checked. The wall might need prepping before any work can begin.

The ideas are put on paper by sketching to scale, so it is proportionate with the actual work, after which the actual work begins.

"Projects can take up to a day or weeks, months or even years," Beckford says. "Time estimate is usually hard to judge depending on detail of image, mural scale, if outdoor (the climate), etc."

Though exposed to the elements, the murals have a long lifespan.

"Nowadays, the quality of material is very good. The murals can last for five years and beyond," says Chung. "Sunlight, rain, and wind are factors that have to be taken into consideration."

Chung and Beckford are among numerous painters who are exhibiting their creativity alfresco. From the excitement of working on a larger-than-life canvas to the gratification of sending positive messages, they continue to toil in the elements to spread cheer and splash colour on mundane fa├žades.

For Osbourne, painting is an illustration of his self-confidence. "I have to be a good role model for my daughter. She looks up to me."

Blake, who says he has devoted himself to the arts, is hoping to produce more of such work. "It is a part of connecting with life and healing."