A new, mid-rise, rental building on Pacific Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn looks like many of the new, mid-rise, rental buildings in the borough—at least from the front. The GF55-designed building’s brick and glass facade is fairly nondescript, but around the corner, on the building’s eastern flank, a new 45-foot-wide, 75-foot-tall mural could become one of the most iconic—certainly the most Instagrammed—pieces of public art in the neighborhood.
The mural, titled Sign Language, was created by Cre8tive YouTH*nk—an arts-based, youth development collective—and overseen by street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode. The building’s developers, Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners, commissioned the project, which was unveiled at the under-construction building in May.
The mural is an adaptation of a 1978 photograph taken by celebrated photojournalist Martha Cooper and depicts a young boy climbing up a street sign to grab a bicycle tire. Cooper worked with the students on the mural and appeared at its unveiling. To take her photo and turn it into a multi-story mural, the young artists essentially broke the image up into about 90 pieces. Those pieces became panels that were individually painted offsite.
Putting those panels in place added another challenge because they were installed before the building was actually completed. “Normally with a mural you paint directly to the building, so you adjust your design to the building on-site,” said Mode at the unveiling. “With this, there was a bunch of back-and-forth with the architect. We gathered a lot of information about where windows were going to land, the colors, the cutouts.”
The developers said that they commissioned local artists for the mural as a way to add something unique to the project, and to the neighborhood. “They wanted to do something cool that had some aspect of the community,” said Jerry Otero, the founder and director of Cre8tive YouTH*nk. “Not just about it, but that was it somehow.”
As new developments continue to rise in Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding neighborhoods, there will be many opportunities for developers to do something like this—to turn an otherwise blank wall into a canvas. And if at least some of them do, it could go a long way in adding design into an area many believe is being overrun with generic architecture.