15+ Minutes of Fame: Mural Endures on Pitzer’s Free Wall

Every Friday morning, Alicia Hurteau SC ’17 walks
past Pitzer College’s Mead Residence Hall on her way to poetry class. Although in a rush, she is consistently drawn
to the mural painted on the Z tower’s north side.

Her gaze lingers as she
passes, unable to look away from the broad strokes and faceless protesters
coming to life before her. Each week, she expects the mural to be long gone,
plastered over by a new artist, yet it remains.

While
student work on Pitzer’s Free Wall is typically painted over once or twice a
week, this mural, created by Adrian Brandon PZ ’15 Sept. 22, has dominated the space for over a month. Not only have other artists chosen to keep Brandon’s work on display, but some
students have also added their own details and thoughts to the work.

“Usually you don’t see
something in that space that has any kind of longevity,” Pitzer Associate Professor of
Art Tim Berg said. “I think that says a lot about how the students respect
what’s being said in that space.”

Brandon
created the celebrated mural for his Art Innovation and Exhibition class, an
upper-level art studio course exploring the visual language of contemporary
artists.

The project’s prompt
was fairly broad: Explore how the idea of time is manifested in a work of art. Typical
to work assigned in many advanced classes, the project’s flexibility allowed opportunity for discovery and individual interpretation.

Each student took the
project in slightly different directions, often choosing content of a personal
interest. Brandon’s work begins with a simple
timeline of social issues in America.

“Most of my art kind of
deals with racial issues or issues regarding identity, just because it’s personal
to me,” he said. “I’ve been going to school in predominantly white schools my
whole life, and so its kind of a big identifier to who I am and what I have
become, and I feel like I’m definitely more aware of that than a lot of my
classmates.”

The timeline is divided
into three parts, or eras, each with its own representative artistic
style. From left to right, Brandon
depicts the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement and contemporary events including the shooting of Trayvon Martin and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting of Michael Brown.  

“Despite the passage of
time, we’re still dealing with the same kind of shit from before,” Brandon
said. “People get the illusion that we’ve made all this progress in terms of
racial inequality, and, obviously, yeah, we have from the 60s, but it’s just camouflaged
in different ways now.”

The concept of a mural was, in and of itself, outside of Brandon’s comfort zone. He has done one mural
before, as part of an independent study project while studying abroad in Costa
Rica, but typically shies away from painting.

I
generally draw just with black ink,” he said. “I don’t like doing color. This
is the second time I’ve ever done a mural or any kind of painting, so it was a
big experiment for me.”

Brandon’s work
originally began in his sketchbook, but he was urged to create a mural during a
mid-project critique with Berg and Assistant Professor of Art Tarrah Krajnak.

“We were like, this
looks like something that needs to be big—it needs to make a statement,” Berg
said. “So how do you do that?”

Brandon, Berg and Krajnak
discussed a number of venues for the proposed painting, including Pitzer’s
student gallery, but ultimately decided on the Free Wall because of time
constraints and the heavy foot traffic it receives.

Brandon has entertained
the notion of completing a mural on Pitzer’s campus since his early days at the colleges. He has always had a keen appreciation for public art, both for its
physical aesthetics and intangible significance.

“It takes people out of
their everyday routine and it makes them think about something different than
they would normally think of,” he said. “It challenges people. If I’m able to
give a new perspective or educate others, I’ve succeeded.”

Since its establishment
in March 2009, the Free Wall has been the subject of much controversy,
regarding both the legality of its creation and the appropriateness of various
words written on it. Regardless, it has become a place where students can
express themselves without having to go through the administration. 

Brandon’s work on the wall
has been altered by students for various causes, but his message remains. One
student, for example, filled in Brandon’s blank protest signs with slogans advocating
for workers’ rights. Such modifications and extensions of thought were not part
of Brandon’s original intent, but the artist appreciates the creativity
brought forward by his fellow students.

“After I did it on the
free wall, I was like, damn, this has a lot of potential for people to mix
their ideas with it,” he said. “I think that’s really cool, so part of the
project is now just documenting the process of how it’s getting painted over
because I think that also speaks to the piece a lot.”

The artist, professors and students alike attribute the mural’s unusual longevity and the respect it has received to its
powerful message. 

“This is something in
our society that’s very much bubbling up at the moment in a variety of places,
and our student body is a group of individuals who are oriented towards social
justice and social change,” Berg said. “When they see something that’s saying
what they’re thinking I do think that it strikes home with the students and
with staff and faculty too.”

It’s not just the
people walking down the Mead service road who have been affected by the topical
nature of Brandon’s mural. The painting, and—with it—Brandon’s message,
has emerged all over social media, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“It’s a nice way of
getting the work out there in another alternate venue, touching some points
further than just the 5Cs,” Berg said. “I think that’s the power of art. It can
explode and become viral very quickly, especially when it’s impactful imagery
and content that’s so central to the issues of the day.”

A number of students
have posted photographs of the work, thanking Brandon for his contribution.
Pitzer’s Office of Admission similarly posted a photograph of Brandon standing
in front of his mural. Pangea, an emerging Pitzer dance crew, had a photo shoot
with the mural as a backdrop. 

“We’re a hip hop dance
crew, which is rooted directly in black culture, and we obviously have a very
diverse group of people,” Pangea member Eric Chow PZ ’17 said. “We thought the
mural looked cool, and was a really unique form of artistic representation.”

An art and
sustainability major, Brandon remains unsure of exactly where his life will
take him as far as a career is concerned. What’s certain, though, is that he
will always be creating impactful artwork, both for fun and for his own self expression. As his professor in the pre-thesis course, Berg is prepared to help
Brandon achieve whatever he decides is important.

“Our goal is to support
our young artists in the way that they want to move forward—we don’t have an
agenda for them,” Berg said. “How he develops is the fun of this final year of
college.” 

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