Concept in Color: New Public Art Captures the History and High Energy of The Grove
“I hope to create an experience for somebody,” says Ellie Balk, the artist behind the bright, colorful circles you’ve likely noticed garnishing the ground along the eastern stretch of The Grove. Together, they may look like a whimsical type of hopscotch game or an abstract celebration of color, but Balk’s new “River Cities” mural is actually a work of data visualization that charts the changes in population in St. Louis and 11 other U.S. river cities since 1900.
Each river city selected for the mural is currently experiencing a boom in technology industries. “The goal,” Balk says, “is to highlight St. Louis as a hub where things are happening.” Though she doesn’t mind if the mural is appreciated solely for its beauty, the geographically oriented mural can also be read like a map. Through Balk’s own visual language, the mural offers historical information about St. Louis and the other cities.
“River Cities” is one of a number of public art projects that have been popping up along the east wing of The Grove, which is itself attracting new restaurants, shops and buildings. For example, the Koman Group, which owns the upscale apartment complex Chroma, is partnering with local artists such as Balk to bring in artwork that mirrors The Grove’s vibrancy and creative spirit. It hopes the community will embrace the space as an outdoor living room where people from all sectors can connect.
Another of the Koman Group’s artistic partners is oil painter Andrew Brandmeyer, who has created two custom streetscapes of The Grove that, in his words, highlight his love for the area and his appreciation for the different aesthetics the city incorporates. “Everything from old to new,” Brandmeyer says.
Using representational and symbolic elements, Brandmeyer captures both the history and the present-day energy of the neighborhood. Blue swipes of graffiti represent the Mississippi River, and a 1920s flapper girl in a traditional American tattoo style evokes the area’s strong nightlife scene and gives a nod to beloved Tower Classic Tattooing. “One of the original marketing descriptions for The Grove was ‘The Center of Everywhere,’” Brandmeyer says. Representing the neighborhood’s early and ongoing ambition to be a hub for St. Louis culture, the word “Everywhere” anchors the top of one of Brandmeyer’s two paintings.
As an artist who frequently paints architecture, Brandmeyer says he is drawn to local buildings and streets because they are larger and longer-lasting than the people who make them. He views architecture as a marker of human achievement and aspiration. “I consider the creativity and design that went into the buildings,” he says. “When I look at architecture, it’s reminiscent of being in a gallery looking at paintings or sculptures: You see the finished product, but you don’t see all the work that went into it.”
Additional artwork inside Chroma includes a joyous “Welcome Home!” mural painted by Sara Zigman. The text greets residents as they enter the building’s parking garage. Five bird paintings by self-proclaimed “bird-crazy” local artist Jeff Kapfer decorate Chroma’s model apartment. And beside Balk’s “River Cities” mural, Tony Rocca’s forest green and teal concrete bollards block off a newly expanded plaza where Chouteau Avenue meets Manchester Avenue. If you haven’t yet seen these 11-sided geometric sentinels, you may have seen their spherical cousins around town—more than 100 of them now bring visual flare to intersections across the city.
A giant ampersand, made from reclaimed wood by Rocca and his team at AKT studios, also adorns the plaza, portraying the connection between nearby Cortex and The Grove, where innovation and culture meld.
Balk’s artwork offers further symbolic connection between The Grove and Cortex through her “Sister Cities” murals, which adorn the walls of the Cortex Innovation Community. In this series, five wall murals map population trends in St. Louis and our 16 international sister cities. Together, the “River Cities” and “Sister Cities” murals provide a bold visual bookend to what Chroma developer the Koman Group hopes will one day become an innovation corridor that fuses Cortex and The Grove and spurs business growth along Sarah Street.
This summer, St. Louis residents will have a chance to experience all the artwork created in collaboration with Chroma at the Parking Lot Pool Party on Aug. 25. And on Oct. 5, long-running community celebration Grove Fest will expand into Chroma’s plaza.
Featured image courtesy of Ellie Balk.
This post is brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE and Guided growing.