Harlem Artist Beautifies Construction Site with Mural
By Jeff Mays
The artist and master of fine arts student at Hunter College hasn't made it there yet, but his mural is on full display across the street at the construction site for the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office building.
The mixed media collage is titled "Soul Art/Search for Justice" and is a mix of images, including Malcolm X, Marin Luther King Jr., protests in Egypt, Haiti and the Sean Bell shootings.
Malcolm X's mouth is not pictured to demonstrate the way violence was used to silence his voice.
"It's a dialogue between the past and the present and represents the social upheaval we are still living with today," said Shrobe, a third generation Harlemite. "I want people to think and engage with the work. It's my way of giving back to a community I love."
The idea came as Shrobe was traveling down 125th street at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and noticed the fenced in construction at the plaza was blocking a giant mural at the state office.
"This beautiful mural was covered up by the construction boards and there was no visible art on 125th Street," he said.
"There aren't many galleries in Harlem so you have to find nooks and crannies and alternative spaces and bring the work out of the gallery."
That's when he decided to make a proposal to the director of the state office building. Willie Walker, general manager for the building, said that Shrobe wasn't the first person to propose a mural on the construction site.
"I didn't approve any of them because I didn't think their artwork was thought provoking enough," Walker said of the dozen or so previous artists he turned down.
Walker said he liked that Shrobe's work displayed some of the "heroes" of black culture and linked them in a way which made people think about the message Shrobe was sending.
"People like things that make them think. We also want to give people an opportunity to show their work because not everyone has a venue," said Walker.
Working in his studio at 141st Street and Lenox Avenue, Shrobe began the piece by making hand-made stencils. He used different painting techniques and collage, and then moved it to the site of the mural.
"People were so excited to see an artist at work. They began engaging with the work on their own," said Shrobe.
Tourists stopped to take pictures, wanting to be a part of the work. Shrobe started showing up and asking people looking at the work questions without mentioning that he was the artist.
Part of the project is observing how people respond to and treat the work. There hasn't been any vandalism so far, only a few flyers posted over the work, and the mural has held up to the weather.
During a recent visit, Shrobe examined the mural and then whipped out a bottle of spray paint to touch up one spot at the bottom that had been damaged by dirt and dust.
"People have been very respectful of the work. That tells me that Harlem likes art and wants to see more of it," said Shrobe.
Shrobe's work will be on display until at least the end of May.