Grove Street Neighborhood Murals Project: “Shadow” by Rachel Sommer
One of the 11 visual artists who participated in the painting of the Grove Street Neighborhood Murals, Rachel Sommer, sat down to speak with us about her mural and involvement with the project.
In January of 2017, the Grove Street Neighborhood Murals project began as an opportunity for one mural to be painted in the area. With aims to beautify and revitalize the historic, inner city Grove Street Neighborhood in Gainesville, the project soon gained momentum with the support of the Grove Street community and developed into a full-scale community project with the unveiling of ten murals over the course of one month.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017 artists and neighborhood members alike celebrated the project’s completion.
Your website states that you’re self-taught, you’ve travelled and created art pieces in America, Australia and New Zealand where you found your passion for creating murals, and you’re heavily influenced by low-brow, fine art and design. Is there anything you’d like to say about yourself that people might not get from your website and the various publications written about your art pieces?
“My travels are modest compared to a lot of recognized street artists; however, traveling alone and living abroad has taught me invaluable lessons about art, people, self-reliance and culture. I constantly critique my own work, practice, research and work to improve my artwork.
I attend lectures by other artists while also taking classes like arts marketing, grant writing for artists and consumer psychology. I am currently considering arts programs at different universities. Recently, I had my artwork featured in the TEDxUF conference, and I will complete a residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina this fall.”
Does your art piece ‘Shadow’ reference any historical figures or events?
“Not really, it’s more about the secret struggle of the everyday person. I wanted viewers to look at this mural and relate to it. It’s meant to deliver hope to those who are going through internal struggles or to remember a difficulty they have overcome.”
Does your art piece ‘Shadow’ reference any cultural figures, artists, or artworks?
“I’d say it falls under the genre of fantasy.”
The key dropping from the dancer’s hand is to symbolize that no one else can make you grow and set you free; only you have the power to do that.
What was driving you to create ‘Shadow’? What was informing your ideas about the piece?
“‘Shadow’ is about spending too long being stifled and suppressed, then asserting yourself and finally setting yourself free. Whether the struggles are in certain relationships or just within yourself, they loom there. The key dropping from the dancer’s hand is to symbolize that no one else can make you grow and set you free; only you have the power to do that.”
How would you explain your art to someone who is unfamiliar with visual art?
“That’s a tough question. I might tell the story of the artwork and see which parts spark an interest or understanding from them and expand on that. Or simply ask them what their thoughts on it are.
I have my own ideas for what it means to me but really, I want the viewers to derive their own interpretation. I don’t think any artwork needs an exact definition from the artist. It’s more interesting for me to hear what people gather from my visual communication.”
Besides drawing and painting, do you make use of any other mediums for creative expression?
“Yes! I love experimenting. I have created pyrography pieces on wood and leather, and I often paint on different types of wood. Also, for a recent exhibition, I created a custom frame that encased multiple layers of painted plexiglass to form a 3D image.
How long did the piece take to paint?
What role do you see your mural as a whole playing in relation to the city of Gainesville?
“I think it fits in nicely with the new murals Gainesville has received in the past two years. I hope that residents of the Grove Street neighborhood enjoy it and can derive some meaning that resonates with them.
Most importantly, I hope that the entire courtyard of Grove Street will now be utilized daily. With the addition of a new brewery and talk of a cafe opening there, I believe it will become a hidden gem of Gainesville.”
You worked with Iryna Kanishcheva of 352Walls for the Grove Street Neighborhood Murals Project. Can you tell us about how this opportunity came about for you, and what it was like to work with Iryna?
“I previously worked with Iryna when I painted a mural for 352walls, so she knew my work and offered me a wall for Grove.
To speak broadly, the relationship between artist and curator is always interesting. Artists don’t need curators to create artwork but curators who do not create need artists; they should cherish and work on those professional relationships.
It is important for curators and organizers to have a foundation of art and art history and to be aware of current social and political issues; to avoid ending up with projects that are simply the result of personal preference. Murals are a sensitive topic at the moment, because it is artwork that is going in a public space.
Once the festival is over, the people that live in that neighborhood are the ones that are going to see the artwork everyday on their commute. Some may argue that it is vital to be culturally sensitive and to paint things that resonate specifically with that community and others would say that art is about personal expression and cannot be curated by anyone else.
There’s always going to be the question of who gets to decide what artwork goes where: the community, the curator, the artists? Also, there is never a mural project that results completely in the vision of the curator. It takes a whole team, so being able to work with others and communicate effectively is vital to creating a successful project.”
There was a celebration event for the Grove Street Neighborhood Murals Project after all the painting had been completed by the participating artists, including yourself. Can you tell me your thoughts about the Murals Project as a whole? Was it a positive experience for you? Would you like to be a part of similar events in the future?
“I actually volunteered to help organize many of the evening performers and activities for the event. This was a lot of work, as I only had two weeks to paint the mural, confirm a whole line up of performers, figure out equipment, time slots and to promote the event.
It was so rewarding to see everything come together with the help of numerous friends, local artists and performers and one of the founders of the project, Maria Huff Edwards. So many of the artists and performers were really inspired and have asked about participating in similar events in the future.
Mural projects and festivals are always fun. I love meeting other artists and you feel like you are a part of change when you can watch artwork on a large scale going up daily next to your own work. I do plan on being in more mural festivals in the future and in different cities as well. It’s exciting.”
Taking in the Scene:
Sommers’ mural features a ballerina dancer with a bird cage for a head, doing a strut against a maroon and orange-crème colored backdrop while two ravens orbit around her. With her limbs extended in all directions, she has let go of a glowing key from her hand, the key which opens the door of the bird cage.
The bird cage, with it’s door thrown open, was previously housing the two ravens she has let loose and now engages in a dance with the both of them. If I was to put forth my own interpretation of the work, I’d say that by releasing her inner bird(s), the dancer is able to dance freely.
The piece speaks to an air of liberation. The liberation begins with the mind and the body follows in suit. The value of freedom is the ability to engage in a delightful dance.