The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Bunker Projects or its members.
I’m not much of a side street walker. The main street of Pittsburgh’s Penn Ave is home to many businesses, artist-run spaces, and amenities in a nice straight line. Well, that has all changed. This summer, two Penn Ave. arts organizations expanded beyond the main drag by revealing two new murals on Coral Street.
In August, I was captivated by VaultArt Studios’ 53-foot mural. I almost dropped my coffee as I read “good morning, Penn Ave.” The work celebrates the collaboration and stylistic signatures of the Studio’s resident artists and many of Pittsburgh’s street artists. This cast of characters is larger than lifesize; many of them I know from @Vaultartstudio Instagram posts where they are depicted as the size of my thumb, now are bright, warm, smiley bodies that tower over me.
I feel myself smiling. There is no scrolling past this world. The text surrounding Heikeem Johnson’s Food Ninja Characters, “Yellow Juice Very Yellow Juice, and Green Juice Delicious Green Juice,” becomes a poem. Johnson’s ninjas, smiling, welcome me to escape into the world built in front of me. Time becomes nonlinear as spring flowers are juxtaposed with Halloween-dress witches and a spider’s web. “I have a Miss Piggy Costume. Can I join you, Kermit?” I think to myself. The painterly representation of Maggie Kambic’s embroidery works on the opposite side of the mural becomes a portal out of this world. Even leaving, I am still smiling.
I return to the dancers. Much like Margaret Kilgallen’s heroines, these dancers are not delicate flowers but strong anchors. In summer dresses, Pappas’ dancers’ presence gives me hope as the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Pappas created this mural during that landmark decision. Although Pappas’ mural does not directly reference the ruling, it feels poignant to note. These two dancers display as they are surrounded by imagery of hope and despair.
Pappas Mural did not appear overnight, yet over weeks of summer days and evenings. The overturning occurred while I was in residence at Bunker Projects, looking out at the beginnings of Pappa’s work. The dancers were the first to appear in June, and over the summer, they danced as the walls of Bunker and Mr. Roboto evolved. The dancers move on a checker plain under the sun and waxing the crescent moon. The moon signals that a new moon and a new season are coming. The dancer in red confidently leads her sorrowful counterpart. An eagle about to take flight and a show horse about to march are contracted with two skulls. Two actions of the beginning are contrasted with two endings.
The floral pattern of the sorrowful dancer’s dress is repeated throughout the mural, surrounding the racing dogs. Above them, my eyes read “Six More Miles,” taking my ears to another Hank William song, “Six More Miles (to the Graveyard),” reminding us that our work is not done.
Eric Anthony Berdis (Erie, PA) also known as Mr. B, is an artist, elementary school teacher, and second-time resident at Bunker Project (alum 2018). Eric’s practice strives to celebrate DIY collectivity, and play for not only themselves but his students. Eric received his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has had solo exhibitions at the University Galleries of Illinois State University, Project 1612 (Peoria IL), and Practice Gallery (Philadelphia) They have exhibited work at Iridian Gallery (Richmond VA), Stay Home Gallery, (Paris TN), Oklahomo (Chicago), and the Erie Art Museum. His work has been published in Hiss Mag, Emergency Index, and New American Painting.