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Brooklyn Street Art

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Broken Crow Knock Out 4 New Murals for “The Bigger Picture” in St. Paul

Posted on June 14, 2012

Minneapolis based Street Artists John Grider and Mike Fitzsimmons, known together as Broken Crow, have just completed a jigsaw-style stencil installation at four locations along St. Paul’s central corridor that, when seamed together, create a 60-foot long stampede of wildlife charging along University Avenue. Using the trademark stencil illustration style they’ve employed on 126 murals over the last decade, this enormous wildlife composition includes a lion, camel, rhino, zebra, tortoise, and penguin running alongside others to accompany the light rail that is being built to whiz by here.

It’s an unusual concept and the resulting video of all four locations being installed simultaneously really makes this newly released time-lapse video especially entertaining (see below). A public works project called “The Bigger Picture Project”, each mural contains a QR code that will trigger images compiled by photographer Benjamin Clasen of what the entire project looked like from the vantage point of the guy who shot 30,000 photos of it.

Broken Crow, “The Bigger Picture Project”, (detail of a composite image of the four walls together) (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

Brooklyn Street Art talked to both artists and the photographer about the Bigger Picture; 

Brooklyn Street Art: Are you imagining people traveling to all four sites and looking at each installation to combine them?
John Grider:
The 4 walls are all on the same transit line/main thoroughfare between the downtown areas of St Paul and Minneapolis on University Avenue, which has been under construction for what feels like years now. I’m actually really excited about riding the light rail once it’s done just to see the murals all together because they were designed for the new trains to be the ideal viewing area.

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about the preparation for the project? Did you cut all these stencils by hand?
John Grider: We spent over a year planning and preparing for The Bigger Picture Project from start to finish. We cut all the stencils by hand, which took about a month, and it took us around 6 months making and refining drawings for it before that.

Broken Crow “The Bigger Picture Project”  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

Brooklyn Street Art: Mike, your stencil work for the last few years has created portraits of many animals – sometimes as metaphor, sometimes as straightforward documentation.  Is there one that appears more often than others?
Mike Fitzsimmons: We both have many favorites.  John loves to paint rams and big cats and I like to paint bears and penguins.  They all have very different reasons for being favorites. For example I like that penguins are very curious creatures that only survive the cold through their community efforts.  Plus they make me laugh both in real life and my artwork.  I like bears because they have adapted so diversely for survival.  A panda bear has adapted a thumb for breaking bamboo whereas, a polar bear has translucent fur to deceive and hunt seals.

Brooklyn Street Art: What is one of the newer ones you really connect to?
Mike Fitzsimmons: If I had to pick a favorite it would be the polar bear.  I had a moment of and clarity about this entire project that I wont forget while painting the polar bear fur.  I was beating myself up about my color choices.  I went down the ladder, took steps back and realized that it was exactly what I wanted it to look like.  All I had to do is take my sunglasses off.

I also really liked that in this composition we were finally able to paint an elephant in a way that it could never be mistaken for a political mascot.

Broken Crow “The Bigger Picture Project”  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

One of the four walls in progress as Broken Crow completed this portion of “The Bigger Picture Project” in St. Paul, Minnesota this month.  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

Brooklyn Street Art: Ben, as a photographer, this was a huge undertaking to capture all the action and then seam it all together. Was it clear to you what it would look like from the beginning, or did it reveal itself as the project moved forward?

Ben Clasen: Our preparation and organization evolved as we thought of new ideas. As the project got underway, we tried to consider everything and control as much of the outcome as we could: Mike and I scouted each location 4 times, and did a lot of measuring. Once we figured out the shape for the final composited building, I think we all fell in love with it.

We had a good plan for the layout of the 4 corners — in each case we were planning for a tolerance of 6 inches — I think we matched our layout within an inch and a half for each wall. We scouted for the path of the sun and knew when and where it would appear in the frame shot.

I feel like I had a good idea of what the final time-lapse would look like as we got down to shooting. Having said that, it was the organic stuff that happened, the stuff we couldn’t control, that created some of my favorite parts of the composite video. I love how the clouds, moving at different rates on the different days, add an old-school cinematic projector feel to portions of the frame. I love the interactions of the ladders and the seeming army of painters across the four simultaneous walls — there is a portion where John’s head and arms on the top-left wall seem to sit atop his body from the bottom-right wall.

Controlling everything is science. Letting stuff happen is where art comes from.

Broken Crow “The Bigger Picture Project”  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you prefer the still images of the finished work alone or the ones with the guys creating the pieces?
Ben Clasen: That is a tough call; It’s like choosing a favorite among your children. There are so many wonderful vignettes of the guys in process — literally thousands of them. I feel like a real story is told by compressing the four days into single moments that you can sample at any given time. The human interaction with the murals I think is the essence of what street art is all about.

I felt compelled to go back to the walls to photograph the individual final pieces, and assemble The Bigger Picture under optimal lighting conditions, because in many ways it is the only way to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The composite scene is beautiful and full of character, representative of the neighborhoods in which they were painted. I love watching people’s reactions to seeing the composite photograph of the finished scene: there is an initial reaction to the whole of the work — “This is a beautiful mural…” and then there is a second reaction, “Oh goodness, those are separate buildings!”

Broken Crow “The Bigger Picture Project”  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

The completed 4-part composited mural by Broken Crow, entitled “The Bigger Picture Project”  (photo © Benjamin Clasen)

Here is the Video Debut on BSA of Broken Crow’s “The Bigger Picture Project” by Benjamin Clasen

If you are in St. Paul you can scope the murals out in person 633 University Avenue, 651 University Avenue, and both sides of 2145 University Avenue.

All photos are copyright © Benjamin Clasen. Learn more about him at MidnightToil.com

“The Bigger Picture” by Broken Crow was financed in part by the Cultural Sales Tax Revitalization Program through the City of St. Paul and is a collaboration of Irrigate.

Learn more about this project at thebiggerpictureproject.net

Broken Crow’s latest show “We Did What We Could”, opens Friday June 15 at XYandZ Gallery. Learn more about Broken Crow at brokencrow.com

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