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Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

By Rachel Alban, JerseyArts.com

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

If you have ever been drawn to a mural on the street and wondered what kind of fine art could be made by the artist, this is the exhibit for you.

On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey” showcases the talent and diversity of urban artists creating art on the streets and in studios throughout the state. This engaging exhibition – featuring artists Catherine Hart, Clarence Rich, Emilio Florentine, Joe Iurato, Layqa Nuna Yawar, LUV1, Mr Mustart, RH Doaz, RORSHACH, Will Power, and a special installation of work by the late Newark-based street art legend Jerry Gant – presents large-scale murals painted directly onto gallery walls accompanied by smaller works by each artist.

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

Though the lines between street art and contemporary art have recently started to blur, this group show is unique as it presents artists who themselves have strong roots in the subculture and authentic history of the street art culture. In fact, many of the featured artists got their start writing letter-based graffiti on walls, usually without permission. The work of each artist has since evolved into a thriving street art practice, many with successful art careers.

“With roots in late 1970s graffiti, skateboard, and punk subcultures, today’s street art has evolved into a cultural phenomenon with a distinct visual language that has reclaimed public spaces in cities across the globe,” wrote guest curator Lois Stavsky, an educator, writer, and independent curator who runs the wildly popular StreetartNYC.org website, in the exhibition introduction.

Jersey Arts readers might recall “Aerosol,” the museum’s 2019 graffiti exhibit. This time, instead of showcasing graffiti that is word-based, these “street art” murals are all image-based – meaning these murals are figurative, representational, or abstract.

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

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Each impressive mural measures 13-1/2 feet tall x 20 feet wide. The artists painted directly on museum walls from August 24- August 31, working when they could during that timeframe, often while juggling professional and family obligations.

For instance, Catherine Hart, who was pregnant at the time, painted between doctors appointments. Rorschach Collective spent their days working on a mural along the highway in Newark, then painted their mural at the museum at night.

The studio work includes painted canvases and boards as well as found objects, prints, and mixed media works. The themes of the show are just as eclectic as the media used, exploring ideas around childhood and family, immigration, nature and climate change, and more.

Once all the murals were completed and studio works laid out, the exhibitions team at the museum worked their magic. The gallery walls were prepped, art was hung, and lighting was installed. In the gallery, you’ll find a time-lapse video of some of the artists painting the murals, giving further insight into the creative process.

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Morris Museum

“On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey” continues through Feb. 27, 2022. The Morris Museum, New Jersey’s only Smithsonian Affiliate, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morris Township. Call (973) 971-3700 for more. Masks are required.


Editor’s Note: The author had the privilege of assisting Stavsky with this meaningful and memorable project, which is why we have such great photos to go along with this piece! Thank you, Rachel!  

Included in header image: Catherine Hart, “New Life;” mixed media studio works by Jerry Gant; installation view of murals by Clarence Rich and Emilio Florentine; installation view with works by Jerry Gant, Joe Iurato, and LUV1; Layqa Nuna Yawar, “Trade Dollar.” All photos by Rachel Fawn Alban.

originally published: 10/08/2021

About the author: Rachel Fawn Alban is an arts educator, writer, and photographer based in Newark, NJ. Since 2013, she has been covering arts and culture stories for UntappedCities.com, StreetArtNYC.org , and ArtBreakout.org and was a contributing photographer to Google Arts and Culture’s online 5Pointz exhibition. As an arts educator, Rachel develops and leads art workshops for organizations including Rutgers University's Paul Robeson Galleries, Abrons Art Center, Scholastic’s Alliance for Young Artist and Writers, and is on Arts Ed Newark’s Trauma Informed Team. Rachel earned her BFA in Art Education and MPS in Art Therapy at the School of Visual Arts. Rachel is thrilled to now be focusing on the arts in New Jersey!

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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