Late on Sunday evening, a small team of Buffalo street artists gathered in the parking lot of Holly Farms, a convenience store near Allen and College streets, to begin work on the first of a major new series of public murals.
The mural-in-progress, created by a group of graffiti artists under the direction of Ian DeBeer and with the help of digital projection artist Keith Harrington, is a tribute to the late Buffalo-born comics artist Spain Rodriguez. It will soon be joined by several other murals on some 20,000 square feet of wall space on buildings near the intersection of Allen and College streets.
It’s all part of the newly formed Allen Street Street Artists Collective, a project quickly organized over the past several weeks by Buffalo arts supporter, author and developer Mark Goldman to help transform the neighborhood and provide more opportunities for street artists to work legally.
The project will have its first major unveiling on Sept. 7, by which point the walls of many buildings will have been transformed by artists from Buffalo and across the United States. Some of the participating artists include David Chino and Patrick Gallo of New York City, Los Angeles street artist Septerhead, and locals Johnny Chow, Max Collins and Meg Corcoran.
The project, Goldman said, was inspired by his late brother Tony, who transformed a downtrodden warehouse district in Miami into one of the world’s most sought-after street art galleries and fostered important street art projects in New York City.
In an email, Goldman wrote that his brother’s work will live on “not only in Soho and in Miami but on the streets of Buffalo, N.Y., where I, by creating the Allen Street Street Artists Collective, will attempt to do for the streets of Allentown what Tony’s work did for New York and Miami.”
Goldman said that he hopes the work will draw needed attention to this gritty stretch of Allentown, which continues to be plagued by empty storefronts and has long been in need of infrastructure improvements.
“I don’t want to see it go down the tubes, which it could very easily do,” he said, adding that the influx of street art is “a great story, it brings sort of the right crowd to the place, it ties us firmly to the arts, which is where I’ve always been anyway, and it sort of challenges other people.”
DeBeer is an experienced Buffalo artist who has served jail time for his graffiti in New York and Pennsylvania and whose long art career has played out almost entirely underground. He is using the opportunity to pay tribute to one of his favorite artists and to establish a toehold in the legitimate art world. But the conditions of DeBeer’s parole, he said, have made his central involvement in Goldman’s project somewhat complicated.
“I’m not allowed to own or possess art-making materials still, so I didn’t touch a can, I didn’t touch any paint throughout the whole process so far. I’ve been overseeing the whole thing and I had to have assistants actually painting it for me. That was a little difficult for me,” he said.
The scene DeBeer chose for the side of Holly Farms is tied up with the Allentown neighborhood. It was inspired by a Spain Rodriguez comic about a fight he got into at a bar called the Jamestown, now Nietzsche’s, across the street from the mural.
“What Mark’s trying to do is he’s trying to bring this attention to Allen. And it’s like, why look any further than what’s already there?” DeBeer said. Work on the remaining murals will go on until the Sept. 7 unveiling, with the bulk of the artwork appearing on about 100 feet of wall space along Goldman’s Allen Street Hardware bar and restaurant and two adjoining buildings.
The official unveiling of the completed murals will coincide with the September version of the Allentown First Fridays Gallery Walk and Echo Art Fair, a major event slated for Sept. 7-8 in the Central Library on Lafayette Square.