Editor's Note: Since the publishing of this story, Carrie Marill would like to add that she and a group of volunteers will be repainting the mural tonight during First Friday.
If you make it out to First Friday tonight, you might notice a missing mural. Under the white paint on the west-facing wall of Dougherty Wholesale Floral Co. on Second and Roosevelt streets in downtown Phoenix is work by local painter Carrie Marill, which was brutally defaced Thursday night (the same night she gave a talk about her current exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art).
It was quickly painted over by Marill and members of Roosevelt Row the following morning.
Marill, painted the brick wall in March. The black and white mural of a woman on an old-school cruiser with a striped top and a hefty baguette in her bike basket is what the Marill describes as an homage to the late, iconic street artist Margaret Kilgallen, who died in 2001.
Thursday night was the second time Marill's mural had been defaced. The first time, Marill says someone wrote "pirate bootleg rip" over the mural, a likely reaction to her work being inspired by another artist.
And while the reaction was nothing new -- artists have debated inspiration, appropriation, and the life of public, ephemeral art since the emergence of fine art -- the defacement of public art raises questions within a community about the value of art and how much that community values the work on its walls.
Cindy Dach, is one of Roosevelt Row's founding members. She's also a co-owner of Eye Lounge Gallery and MADE Art Boutique in downtown Phoenix and a co-owner of Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore. She was one of the principle organizers of a volunteer day held on Roosevelt Row in the spring of 2012 that saw 600 volunteers clean up sidewalks and empty lots throughout the neighborhood and helped three local artists who volunteered to paint murals: Laura Spalding Best, Tara Logsdon - and Carrie Marill.
Dach says the purpose of the volunteer day was to "create a sense of place around Roosevelt Row, to beautify the neighborhood, and to say "hey you're in a place where art matters." She says she saw Marill's mural the morning after it was defaced and was heartbroken.
"We're now considering having statements explaining every piece of art, which takes everything to a new level," says Dach after a Roosevelt Row meeting Nov. 2.. "It's a sad day for the arts community when artists are attacking artists and we have to think about preservation, about statements on where ideas come from, and when our our art community needs bylines. But people are choosing to respond in a hateful way instead of having a conversation."
Marill says the intent of her mural was simple.
"I was very much inspired by Margaret Kilgallen. I included a statement that the mural was inspired by her work on the bicycle wheel of the mural," she says, and also notes that she wanted to honor Kilgallen, whose piece in the parking garage of the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art was recently destroyed when the garage was torn down.
"But without that information out there, I think my intention has been misunderstood."
The discussion of protecting public work while encouraging creative discussion is an old one in arts programs across the country. In Phoenix, murals have been painted on private and public walls for decades. And as their popularity has grown, so has the effort to keep them intact and safe from vandalism.
With the help of historians, professional art restorers, and volunteer artists, public art programs in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles are continuing to preserve public work done by artists for more than 50 years. This month, an ordinance passed in Los Angeles to lift a long-standing mural ban on private property.
But that process is complicated when reactions to art on the street are often spelled out in spray paint and the lines between art, graffiti, and public speech blur.
Along Roosevelt Row and 16th Street, the mural movement is in full swing. Artists including El Mac, Thomas "Breeze" Marcus, Sentrock, Antigirl, Andy Brown, J.B. Snyder, DOSE, Lalo Cota, Gennaro Garcia, Hugo Medina, and Colton Brock (to name a few), have transformed walls throughout the city with artwork, which has inspired a running series on Jackalope Ranch, Phoenix New Times' culture blog (phxculture.com), called "Mural City." These artists know the nature of painting on the streets -- their work is often ephemeral, up for public commentary, and subject to tagging and destruction, which is notably prohibited under Arizona law.
But the law often falls short in protecting murals before they are defaced, and as a result, these murals are no strangers to tagging and other destruction. In 2000, portraits of the four members of monOrchid painted on the gallery's wall by Steve Yazzie were destroyed by vandals. The mural down the street on Eye Lounge gallery that Tucson artist Joe Pagac returns to paint with a new image and written shoutout to upcoming music shows has seen its fair share of tags that Pagac and Roosevelt Row volunteers work to clean up on a regular basis. And the longstanding piece by late Phoenix painter Rose Johnson on 16th Street is currently being restored by local artists after years of fading and tags.
On the morning of Nov. 2, it was clear Marill's mural had been a target. Red paint covered her entire design in sloppy, thick blocks that outlined her character and the bike's trail. New Times has agreed not to run photos of Marill's defaced mural (or details of the tagging and defacement of murals mentioned above) as the goal of anyone who tags over a work of art is destruction and attention.
"These artists painted for free," says Dach. "They were given materials and the help of hundreds of volunteers who spent their day making this a better place. I think the majority of people are proud of the work and this kind of reaction is a slap in the face to the artists and to the volunteers ... When people say negative things about Phoenix, these actions only reinforce those things. And sure, murals are destroyed in cities across the country, but they're also not destroyed in cities across the country. We know backing down is not the answer, so we're going to keep doing what we do to improve the community and work with arts programs who deal with the same issues to come up with solutions."
Marill says she's still trying to decide whether to repaint her homage or start a new image. "I've talked to people who want to see the same image on the wall," she says. "But I don't know how to keep it from being defaced again if the hate is already there. I know it's not the end of the world, but if I could just talk to the person who did it, I feel like there would be a much better understanding."
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