Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the occasion of the completion of “Brainbow Alley”

by Suzanne Sbarge

I am pleased to announce the completion of “Brainbow Alley” by Larry Bob Phillips on the backside of the 516 ARTS building. In this piece, Phillips has created a mash-up of high and low culture, art history and comic books. The piece references Pieter Breugel the Elder’s masterpiece “The Triumph of Death,” in which a panorama of skeletons and humans are locked in an eternal battle. Unlike the anonymous, indistinguishable human faces that comprise Breugel’s macabre disaster-scape, the featured protagonists in “Brainbow Alley” include some familiar Albuquerque artists, professors, kids, grandfathers, dogs and community leaders.

“Brainbow Alley” started back in the spring of 2014 for our “Heart of the City” project. A year and a half later, after a process that evolved around the artist’s busy schedule of exhibitions and commissions, 516 ARTS is the lucky home to one of Phillips’ fantastical and virtuosic black and white murals that have been popping up around Albuquerque. The mural started with a general focus on the urban environment of Albuquerque, but developed to broadly address human struggle and the ominous situation of our planet.

As Phillips finishes “Brainbow Alley” this week and gears up to start a new mural commission in Marfa, Texas next week, I asked him a few questions.

SS: What inspired you to use the Pieter Bruegel painting “The Triumph of Death” from 1562 as a theme for your new mural "Brainbow Alley” on the back of 516 ARTS in Downtown Albuquerque?

LBP: I’ve been drawing skeletons and skeleton battles ever since I was a kid. In college, it was nice to learn the high-brow history behind the imagery I was used to seeing on my skateboards.

SS: You have chosen to paint elaborate murals in some unlikely places, like the men’s room at the old Atomic Cantina bar, and now the alley behind 516 ARTS where the dumpsters knocking around. What has drawn you to paint in these locations that can be seen as the depths or the underside? 

LBP: The clash of disproportionate expectation and reward is an expressive element in itself, and the journey to get to a locale is important conditioning too. I think people are a little defensive when they walk into a museum; they might feel defensive walking along the railroad tracks but in a different way that makes the art more poignant.

SS: As your work is getting national recognition and your reputation is quickly growing, how has living in Albuquerque nurtured and fortified you?

LBP: New Mexico is great! Our rich history deserves study by everyone living here. Once you start to understand where our different groups are coming from you realize there is no place on earth like this one and we have something special to say.

SS: What advice do you have for artists who want to bring their work to the streets by becoming muralists?

LBP: I keep having to remind myself this because murals can wear you out physically and they don't always pay well, but treat every opportunity like its your best last chance, your viewers deserve it.

If you have a chance, don’t miss Phillips’ exhibition of new work on view at Phil Space in Santa Fe through Saturday, October 31, titled “Paintings of the Electric Night.” Phillips was recently profiled by Claude Smith for the New American Paintings blog.

On behalf of all of us at 516 ARTS, I would like to thanks to Larry Bob Phillips, Kimberly Crawford, the Historic District Improvement Company and the following mural contributors: Diane Burke, Diane Cress, Jitka Dekojova, Bill Gilbert, Rachel Harris-Huffman, James Jacob, Norty & Summers Kalishman, David Leigh, Karlita Linden, Adrienne Salinger, Linda Slater, Randy Trask and David Vogel & Marietta Patricia Leis. And big thanks to guest filmmaker Dicky Dahl who jumped in this week to create the video about this project.

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