Discover the Magic of Murals at The Walls Off Washington
By Rachel Huffman
Creative. Diverse. Intriguing. Unrestricted. Street art has the ability to beautify neighborhoods and transform communities. No longer rejected as merely graffiti or vandalism, the art movement continues to grow in popularity, and as it expands and evolves, it can become a source of civic pride and outdoor engagement in cities such as St. Louis.
Neighboring The Fabulous Fox, The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries, Jazz St. Louis, The Big Top and The MOTO Museum, The Walls Off Washington is an inspirational backdrop for the Grand Center Arts District. Visitors can enter The Walls through Sophie’s Artist Lounge at 3333 Washington Ave. and tour the murals, beginning with Lift As You Climb, a vibrant mural by Derrick Adams that depicts eye-catching figures helping each other climb colorful ladders to the top of the building.
“We’re carefully curating this mural experience so that it shines a positive light on St. Louis,” Grafos says. “We believe St. Louis should be respected. It should be loved, not feared.”
Other highlights of the project include J’Ai Deux Amours by C215, in which St. Louis native Josephine Baker wears beads and an endearing smile; The Bear by Burlesque of North America, which features strong symbols of St. Louis; and Cave Lady Vs T-Rex, which delights kids and adults alike.
“Murals – and street art, in general – address complex issues, but they do so in a way that isn’t heavy-handed,” Grafos says. “It’s an impactful art form. In Simiya Sudduth’s From Infinity to Infinity, she puts up a peace sign. That simple gesture becomes a call to action, but her palette and her style keep the image soft and tender.”
Grafos credits trustee Mary Ann Srenco, who is also the daughter of Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, for initiating The Walls Off Washington. “She is the visionary behind the project,” Grafos says. “She acknowledged other cities throughout the world that have concentrated murals as a way to beautify public spaces and lift local artists, and she wanted that for St. Louis.”
When choosing artists to include in the project, Grafos says that legendary local artists, including Cbabi Bayoc and Simiya Sudduth, were obvious choices. “It was also important to recognize the regional, national and international artists who continue to push the boundaries of public art,” she says. “Kenny Scharf, for instance, is one of the most prolific international artists of our time. We just shared the wall that we thought would work for him, and he came up with the concept of Kranzbergville, which he finished in 72 hours, working by hand without projections.”
Created on the side of High Low, Kranzbergville includes four “buildings.” Painted yellow, emerald, purple and tangerine, respectively, each building resembles an animated face with windows for eyes, spray-painted noses and doors for mouths.
“One very important and guiding principle of my work is to reach out beyond the elitist boundaries of fine art and connect to popular culture through my art,” Scharf writes in the guide to The Walls Off Washington. His words seem to summarize the intent of The Walls, as well.
“Some people don’t feel comfortable going into galleries or visiting museums,” Grafos says. “Some of them don’t like the vibe, and some of them ‘don’t get art.’ With The Walls Off Washington, the scale of the murals consumes you, and you can lose yourself in them. You don’t have to pretend to understand or like them, though, because there’s no one watching you; you can enjoy the art on your own terms. I hope that people consider what art can do, not only for the individual but also for the city.”
In 2019, Remix Uno was the first artist to start work on his mural, 215 Feet of Love, a standout on North Leonard Ave. that features a mighty cardinal amongst abstract, pastel-colored shapes. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, artists continued to lift their murals, and today, The Walls Off Washington encompasses 20 murals, all within a walkable space.
“For me, it’s impossible to pick a favorite mural,” Grafos says. “My relationships with the artists and my personal connection to their work makes each one special.”
As you observe the images, the colors and the messages of the murals, you’ll likely find it equally difficult to single out just one.
The ultimate goal of The Walls Off Washington is to bring people together. Grafos and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation team are currently organizing various events, parties, festivals and experiences to activate The Walls in new and exciting ways.
“I’m always thinking about how to inspire people, whether they’re going to work or they’re visiting St. Louis for a special occasion,” she says. “I want people to add The Walls Off Washington to St. Louis’ long list of world-class attractions and exquisite experiences. This is a unique vehicle to activate your mind and your heart.”
There are more murals – as well as special events – on the horizon at The Walls Off Washington, so your visits will always feel fresh. Get out and explore them today.