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Street Artists Turn Midtown Building into Massive Graffiti Canvas

By Alan Neuhauser | November 7, 2013 11:44am
 Four artists from Art Battles in Midtown painted giant murals in the ground-floor of 5 Bryant Park Tuesday night, Nov. 6, 2013, day-two of a five-day project.
Art Battles at 5 Bryant Park
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MIDTOWN — Street art's gone corporate.

Four renowned graffiti artists have come together to paint a giant, two-story mural on the window-ringed ground-floor of 5 Bryant Park, a vacant retail space at West 40th Street and Sixth Avenue that's set to "relaunch" after a 10-month renovation.

For five straight nights this week, Brooklyn artists Max Bode and Edwin David Sepulveda Cruz, who goes by the name Don Rimx, as well Jason Lamar Hailey, who lives in San Francisco and is known as Chor Boogie, and Polish artist Natalia Rak will paint on a 100-foot-long, 25-foot-high wall inside the building.

Organized by the Midtown-based group Art Battles and the building's owner, Equity Office Properties, the project is aimed at heralding the rebranding of the building, which was formerly known as 1065 Avenue of the Americas.

"I've always been interested in and love the street art of New York City and the energy it brings to the city," Equity Office marketing manager Justin Huebener said. "We wanted to capture it and bring it to the canvas we have in the interior of this space."

The mural will stay up as long as the space remains unoccupied. In the meantime, on Sunday, the collaboration will turn to competition as each artist will take part in an art battle — taking 90 minutes to paint a 6-foot-by-6-foot canvas for a crowd of onlookers who will cheer for their favorite. 

"It's really exciting," said Bode, who lives in Greenpoint. The mural is "the biggest thing I've ever done. It's huge."

On Wednesday, the artists, plus a handful of supporters and a small camera crew, took turns riding skateboards around the space, DJing from an iPod, and sitting and talking on pieces of cardboard laid on the concrete floor.

The paintings featured depictions of a man starting a fire indoors and a child toting an unlit Molotov cocktail in his back pocket.

"Fire indoors, it's something that doesn't make sense," said Cruz, who painted the fire-starter.

Rak, who painted the child, had initially planned the character to be more like a thief, wearing a bandana over the lower half of his face.

Instead, she said, "I saw the one guy who was painting a fire, so I thought I would make the Molotov cocktail to create with that."

The mural is Art Battles' biggest project to date, one that "dwarfs" past projects, said the group's creative direct Andre Trenier. And it's drawn a crowd of onlookers each night.

"I'm a little jealous I don't get to paint," Trenier, 36, said. "One can only hope it's kept, but I wouldn't expect that. It would be awesome if they did that."

Huebener agreed. "It would really be awesome if a future tenant has the vision to incorporate that into their buildout and the architecture of the space," he said.

Art Battles' founder, Sean Bono, 31, acknowledged that a tenant will eventually move in and "the space will change."

But "hopefully it's a while," he added.