New murals honor Providence spirit and communities
TAC recently rotated the set of two murals at the Weybosset Facade, located at the old National Bank at 35 Weybosset Street as part of the Weybosset Facade Residency at TAC, an annual residency supported by Paolino Properties since 2016. This is a unique opportunity for local artists to explore and expand their creativity within the realm of public art in Providence. Artists in residence receive materials, support and public space to push themselves creatively, creating accessible public art and engaging our community.
This year’s local artists in residence Michelle Perez and Marius Keo Marjolin have been able to paint the full surface of the window areas due to structural improvements made possible by Paolino Properties and TAC this summer.
Michelle Perez is an illustrator and designer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work considers the place nostalgia has in our emotions and reflections on the world today. She grew up creating art, starting with SpongeBob and The Last Airbender fan art as a kid, and she always knew she wanted to become an artist. “Art was always my way of observing and interpreting the world around me, so there was nothing else in mind to do, and my parents were always really supportive, which I’m grateful for.” She went on to study illustration at RISD and graduated in 2020.
The concept for her mural on the Weybosset facade (street side), entitled Parade, is at one level inspired by the welcome changes summer brings to daily life. With the warm weather, movement and sound return to Providence’s downtown streets and throughout the city. Michelle shares that she was also inspired by how Providence as a city came back to life and brightness after the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic the streets of Providence were very quiet, and I think my initial inspiration for the mural was the bike riders, skateboarders, and motorcyclists – those people that were still outside and making noise in a good way, bringing sound and life back to the streets of Providence after such a cold, quiet, and somewhat lonely period of time,” she describes.
Michelle represents energy and activity in the mural through her depiction of the fish lanterns carried by kayakers during WaterFire. Her mural design has cyclists and skateboarders carrying the fish. She exaggerates their long, trailing whiskers which she adorns with droplet-shaped bells, announcing the arrival of summer to Providence.
Michelle describes her process as emotionally-driven, drawing connections to memory or to feelings of nostalgia to find inspiration. For example, for the Weybosset mural, she started by thinking about the location of the mural site in downtown Providence and its proximity to the canal, and she reflected on the memories she had of that area from her early days of college and connecting to the city through Water Fire events.
Her work is also defined by motion and fluidity. “I want what I make to have a rhythm and emotion to it. Even if it’s standing still, I think it’s something that I really try to capture through my lines, my colors, and the composition.” She hopes to keep connecting with larger audiences through murals and other artforms through emotion, including through collaborating with music venues. “I want my work to make people move and feel in the same way that music influences and inspires me,” she describes.
She hopes that the Weybosset mural will bring a sense of liveliness and whimsy to downtown. She also hopes that the bike riders and skateboarders will see themselves in her work. She says, “as I was painting I saw some of them slow down while they were riding past, recognizing themselves for just a second.”
Marius Keo Marjolin
Marius Keo Marjolin is a queer Khmer-American artist based in Providence, RI. They grew up making art and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2021 with a BFA in Printmaking. They are a Teaching Artist at CityArts and a member of Binch Press + Queer.Archive.Work, a cooperatively run printshop and zine library. Through their vibrant watercolor paintings and screen prints, Marius overlaps colors and textures with characters and symbols from Khmer dance. They are especially inspired by water as a powerful symbol of movement within Cambodian folklore and history.
Their process is heavily influenced by their family and upbringing as half Khmer and half French. Growing up adept at both art and social studies, Marius’ work involves a deep research practice as part of their process. Through the years, they’ve become interested in engaging with their Khmer background and interacting with other Khmer artists, especially other queer Khmer artists in reflecting on what it means to be a queer Southeast Asian. “I’ve been really engaged with researching traditional Khmer art forms and mythology, finding characters or heroes and layering on my queer identity, and I think especially with dance forms the work can lend itself to queer narratives given how the artform traditionally centers around women,” they describe.
Marius’s process is also influenced by their background as a printmaker. “When I screen print, I feel like my pieces definitely rely on the way that inks interact with each other and overlap to make new layers.” The original centerpiece of the mural was designed to be a screen print, so it was interesting for Marius to work through reverse engineering the image as a painting with acrylics as a significantly different medium.
Marius’ mural design for the Weybosset facade (lot side), entitled Fire Season, is inspired by Khmer art forms such as dance, theater, and shadow puppetry. The mural features a female dancer holding an ax and wearing the traditional costume of a male character in Khmer dance. She is bookended by Southeast Asian muntjac deer and tree motifs. The limited warm color palette alludes to both the screen of Cambodian shadow puppet theater, traditionally lit by bonfire, and to the orange skies caused by the wildfires of today. Bridging influences from mythology and ecology, Fire Season is a meditation on how we might emotionally reconcile with our world’s rapidly warming climate.
For Marius, creating the mural was an important opportunity to reflect on the local Khmer community who have been here for decades. “They have been super welcoming and wonderful to me,” they say. In the future, they hope to work with more Southeast Asian community centers in New England, creating works both large-scale like murals and small-scale like zines, and connecting with Khmer, queer, and other communities far and wide.
Thank you to Paolino Properties for supporting the residency and renovations to the facade, and to Adler’s Design Center & Hardware for supply support. We’re also grateful for support provided in part by a grant from RISCA through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and private funders.