Little-known facts behind the "Temper Tot" by Ron English, found on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, pictured, and other well-known street art murals in New York City. (Credit: Christa Lopez)
Credit: Christa Lopez
A mural can help shape city transit policies
The "Not One More Death" mural, located at Third Avenue and Butler Street, was painted to memorialize children who had been killed in traffic accidents -- particularly near crosswalks -- in Downtown Brooklyn. Artist Christopher Cardinale, 45, painted the mural during the summer of 2007 in collaboration with Groundswell, a mural nonprofit, and Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that aims to help reduce fatal crashes in the city.
At the mural's dedication ceremony, the Department of Transportation announced they would implement new traffic calming measures along Third and Fourth Avenues, including curb extensions. It was one of the first times that street art had spurred an immediate, direct and tangible response from the city. Fast forward 10 years, and there are now speed bumps, 20 mph signs and speed cameras in the area, according to Kim Wiley-Schwartz, assistant commissioner for education and outreach at the Department of Transportation.
"When we focus on children who were lost in needless preventable traffic crashes, it galvanizes everyone's advocates, cities and the public to understand how important it is to re-envision our streets where families are," Wiley-Schwartz said. "It's very fair to say that [the mural] was a catalyst for the conversation and has kept the dialogue going with the community."
Credit: Justin Suarez
Staten Island's special species gets a shout-out
Animals are a specialty when it comes to Justin Suarez, a muralist from Rochester. So when the NYC Arts Cypher, a Staten Island-based art nonprofit, approached him with the opportunity to paint a mural, Suarez knew he wanted to paint an animal species native to the area. He decided to paint a mural of a screech owl, which he completed in August 2016, near the top of the building that houses Lakurwana, a Sri Lankan restaurant at 668 Bay St.
"I looked up some animal species native to the area, which is the same process I go through every time," said Suarez, 33, who goes by the pseudonym Mr. Prvrt. He volunteers with Wild Wings, an organization that houses permanently injured birds of prey, and regularly features owls and birds of prey in his artwork. "That was the first time I had painted a screech owl that large, specifically."
Credit: Christa Lopez
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the skyline ... from the ground
On a cold December day in 2016, artist Vince Ballentine began to design a mural that would bring the Brooklyn Bridge to residents of Flatbush Gardens, an apartment complex on 1402 Brooklyn Ave.
The idea was to feature the borough of Brooklyn as its own character in the mural. Instead of painting, say, the faces of individual Brooklynites or specific landmarks, Ballentine said he wanted to paint a scene that emanated the borough's vibes as a whole.
"Let's say if you were in one of the top floors at Flatbush gardens -- that might be something you'd actually see," said Ballentine, 39, who lives in the neighborhood. "But being that not everybody gets that type of bird's-eye view, why not bring that same angle down to a lower level where everybody can enjoy the same panoramic view that somebody way up in Flatbush Gardens is seeing?"
Credit: Christa Lopez
You can own a tiny 'Temper Tot'
The "Temper Tot" mural by Ron English has been featured numerous times throughout the city, including on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, pictured, and temporarily on the Houston Bowery Wall in Manhattan. But the "Temper Tot," inspired by The Incredible Hulk and English's kids, was also made available as an eight-inch model figure (including a version that glows in the dark). Originally launched in early 2013, the vinyl figurine costs about $70 on Amazon. You can also find it on select collectible toy websites.
Credit: Christa Lopez
Can you spot the nods to Gucci fashion?
It's not every day that your favorite fashion brand takes notice of your artwork, but that's exactly what happened to Jayde Fish, a 32-year-old graphic designer and illustrator based in San Francisco, Calif.
Fish fell in love with Gucci after she saw creative director Alessandro Michele's first fashion show in 2015. In the spring of 2016, she decided to dedicate her Instagram to the brand, illustrating 17 pieces of artwork inspired by Gucci and tagging Michele. Weeks later, brand representatives reached out to Fish and sponsored a 2,500-square-foot mural titled "The Hermit" based on her work in SoHo.
"'The Hermit' can be taken a couple of different ways. One is this sort of (wanderer) who travels alone, maybe she's a little more introverted. On the other hand, it's also someone who's shedding light on truth and inspiration, and is looking for creativity," Fish said. "Personally, it was my way of communicating with (Gucci) that I was using them as my inspiration."
The mural was unveiled during New York Fashion Week and features several reoccurring details that any Gucci fan will recognize, including lightning bolts, the owl, and the hot air balloon itself, which was inspired by one of Gucci's pieces featured on the runway. Visitors can view the mural on Lafayette Street between Prince and Spring Streets.
Credit: Katie Yamasaki
Helping moms and their children communicate from a distance
For several months in 2013, artist Katie Yamasaki hosted art workshops with mothers who had been incarcerated in Rikers Island, and a separate series of workshops with their children, ages four through 12. In the workshops, the mothers and children drew paintings, wrote poetry and made sketches to convey messages about what it was like to be separated from one another for months, even years. At the end, Yamasaki compiled all their drawings and created two murals: one based on the mothers' artworks, located within Rikers Island, and one designed by the children, in East Harlem on 118th Street and First Avenue.
"If Walls Could Talk" features different images based on the workshops, such as a mother tracing her hand and saying, "When you feel lonely, place your hand here." Another image on the East Harlem wall shows a woman in shackles, with her body made of cinder blocks in the water, holding several children. The image represents the experience of being on an island and the message that physical separation can't take away a mother's love.
"Jail is a very stressful place where people are on guard all the time. They're very unsure at that moment what's going to become of their lives because they haven't been sentenced. They don't know what's going to happen to their kids," said Yamasaki, 40, currently based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. "To have a place where you can have a peaceful space to create art, focus on your children and think about what you want to communicate to them, it helped them remember a really important part of themselves and be able to communicate that."
Credit: Gera Lozano
This mural doubles as a prayer site
One evening, Gera Lozano was passing by a mural in Astoria that she painted with her husband, Werc Alvarez, and noticed someone on the ground in front of their art, praying. It wasn't the first time.
The couple, based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, had been commissioned by the Welling Court Mural Project to paint a mural that spoke to the surrounding community.
"We wanted to create something that was an offering. As we were developing the mural, once we got there, we noticed there was a big Middle Eastern and Muslim population," Alvarez, 37, said.
They didn't know how special the site would become until after they began to notice residents using the mural as a place of worship. The couple, based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, titled the mural "Breath of Life" since breathing is often a central part of prayer and meditation. The hand gesture is a symbol of receiving a blessing from a higher power.
"We noticed that some people pray facing east on that wall. That was a huge inspiration for the hand in the mural, (signifying) giving and receiving. We didn't want to make anything blatantly religious, but we are very conscious of the spirit realm," Lozano said. "It's showing an aspect of reality that we don't see with our eyes, but we can feel."
The mural can be viewed on Steinway Street and 34th Avenue.
Credit: Danielle Mastrion
A piece of Coney Island's history, with more to come
For Danielle Mastrion, living near an amusement park was one of the coolest things about growing up in Coney Island. Mastrion, 34, recently completed the first in a series of murals located in Luna Park that show the area's evolution over the years.
Three of Coney Island's most famous ride rides -- including the Cyclone, Thunderbolt and Parachute Jump -- are incorporated in the colorful mural. Mastrion also painted the Elephantine Colossus, a famous hotel in the shape of an elephant that was a major tourist attraction in the neighborhood during the late 1800s.
"It's kind of like Coney Island, then and now," said Mastrion, who currently lives in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. "It's incorporating both current themes, and also themes that aren't here anymore." For the entire background, she painted a cityscape of apartment buildings to represent the entire neighborhood, not just the amusement area.
"People were coming off of the boardwalk and saying, 'That's my building!' or, 'Oh my gosh, I recognize that! That's the building on 27th," Mastrion said.
Standing at 30 feet high and 100 feet long, "A Walk Through Time" is located near the boardwalk and considered one of the biggest murals in south Brooklyn, she added. For the last two murals in the series, Mastrion plans to use old portraits of ride operators and vintage photos of Coney Island for inspiration. She plans to start painting the second mural this spring.