Art or Political Statement?
By: Brent Runyon
A pair of artists are facing criticism for murals on an underpass on the Shining Sea Bikeway’s extension near Palmer Avenue, which some say are too political and too large, and should be painted over.
The more controversial work, a large hand holding a dark substance, has been interpreted by some to be a man making an obscene gesture while holding a handful of oily seaweed, a reference to BP and the Gulf oil spill.
“I don’t think that, but when someone points it out, I could see how you could see that,” said Friends of Falmouth Bikeways co-founder Patricia P. Johnson, who said she first heard the criticism while using the bike path a few weeks ago.
“People have oil and oil spills on their minds, which never would have been on anybody’s brain a year ago.”
“People were getting the wrong idea,” said Coleen C. Gura, an artist who lives on Millfield Street, Woods Hole. “That’s not where he was going.”
She explained that artist Mark M. Sears planned to paint a lighthouse on top of the hand and that the black substance is meant to be grass and roots. Mr. Sears, also of Millfield Street, has stopped work on the large mural because of the criticism.
“That’s his decision and it’s probably a good decision,” said Ms. Johnson. She said the board of directors for Friends of Falmouth Bikeways have agreed that the mural should be painted over or removed.
The other mural, painted by Ms. Gura, is certainly not political, but is drawing criticism from another artist. The large mural under the bridge features a bicycle, and a day lily.
Her work has been well received by passersby, she said. “I get a lot of thank-yous and people saying, ‘Keep up the good work.’ I get a lot of suggestions, too, which is funny. People ask me to paint their dogs.”
One person who is not pleased with her work is mosaic artist James C. Bowen, who worked on the piece directly opposite Ms. Gura’s artwork in the same underpass.
Mr. Bowen said the new murals are too large for the mosaic, which he described as subtle and soft.
“It overpowers the mosaic that we did,” he said. “I think [Ms. Gura’s mural] is rather well done, but it’s too big. You wouldn’t put a Mozart minuet on stage next to a heavy metal concert.”
Ms. Gura said she has been working on her design for over a year, and didn’t know the scale of the mosaic when she was designing hers.
“I wanted to make mine very large,” she said. “I’m either going to go big or go home.”
Mr. Bowen said that he thinks that mural should be painted over as well, while Ms. Johnson said she thought it should remain.
Ms. Gura is 24, and has a bachelor’s degree in arts and art history from Carlow University in Pittsburgh. She works for her cousin Eric T. Gura, the owner of Pie in the Sky in Woods Hole.
She said she would be hurt if the Friends of Falmouth Bikeways decided to paint over her artwork. “But lots of great artists weren’t appreciated in their time.”
Of even greater concern for Mr. Bowen is that the community did not know anything about the murals, which were permitted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Ms. Johnson.
“Apparently, [Ms. Johnson] was the only one who ever saw it. She didn’t ask anyone else on her committee,” he said.
Ms. Johnson agreed that the situation could have been handled better, but she only received three applications for murals, including Mr. Bowen’s, Mr. Sears’s and Ms. Gura’s.
“I think going forward, with more experience, that the Friends of Falmouth Bikeways will definitely structure future decisions differently.”
Ms. Johnson said that once graffiti is removed from the Curley Boulevard underpass in North Falmouth, there will be more opportunities for public art in Falmouth. The Curley Boulevard space is 60 feet long and could include as many as six new murals.
For Ms. Johnson, the experience has brought up some philosophical questions about the permanence of art. She said she attended a lecture earlier this year by the artist Christo at Lillie Auditorium.
“He said art is temporary and shouldn’t be up for more than two weeks,” she said.
The murals may not be there forever, but Mr. Bowen’s mosaic is meant to be permanent, Ms. Johnson said. “It’s an exceptional piece of art, even if it is under the underpass.”
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