THE HISTORY OF FLATBUSH AVE begins in 1651. The Flatbush neighborhood was established as a Dutch colony, under the name Midwout. Midwout became known as Flatbush as Irish immigrants and Orthodox Jews began moving into the neighborhood after its establishment. Soon after the founding of Midwout, the land was surrendered to the English and became known as Flatbush. Like many neighborhoods in New York, Flatbush was known for its multiculturalism before recent gentrification.
THE HISTORY OF THE BUILDINGS 80 Flatbush and 94 Flatbush is one that is inseparable to the history of the neighborhood. The two buildings on which the mural exists represent two halves of the complex history of Flatbush, one half being corporate and the other half being organic. 80 Flatbush was built in the 50's to be an office for the State of New York. 94 Flatbush was a movie theatre during the prohibition that morphed into a bowling alley and billiard hall as the 20's ended and 1933 arrived. Flatbushers and Brooklynites congregated at these buildings to participate in the law and outside the law. The structures stood as two halves of the same whole, allowing space for discussion and public action. As time progressed, the Flatbush neighborhood changed with the tide of gentrification. Today billiard halls are empty and high-rises are full. Merz's mural outlines processional space for working class people and records their place in the history of Flatbush.
The building was drawn by one person, ( katie merz ), and every single mark on the building was hand drawn and freestyled. It was completed in 35 days , and the 2017 New York City Marathon was my hard deadline. I made an intention to fill the wall with references to Bklyn. From memories of growing up there - to my Dad’s stories of his Brooklyn childhood, to people’s shouts and notes from their own experiences and memories - this is a drawn collective history of a moment in time in Brooklyn, New York. The building was painted black by another painting contractor and I would follow him along as we both shared the lifts. My assistant Ty would double every line that I drew, basically re-drawing the entire building over my initial line. Nothing was re-done. What was originally drawn - stayed put - nothing was erased or drawn over - there was not enough time. The building to me is a live way of reading - a new form of storytelling - this building is the past, present and future story of a place that I love very much - it is Brooklyn.
I wanted to make the building more than just a mural, and wanted the process of it to be an inclusive experiment in absolute open-ness, spontaneity and connection. Before beginning - I set the intention to interact and be present with everyone that engaged me while I worked. Given the location and the activity of this strip, this intention was easy to achieve. The building housed the New York State Office of Human Resources and was a constant non stop hub of social interaction and activity. The people that worked in this building were a huge part of why this project was so special to me. Everyone that worked in the building is up on the wall in some way shape of name. It is their building, they are the landlords of the surface of the building.
Portraits - Almost everyone that passed by was curious enough to stop and strike up a conversation - and from there the improv process would begin. We would figure out a scenario that would be funny or possible - from there on out - is was total street improv - a combination of trust - play - drawing and humor. I would also leave drawings on the wall ( an umbrella - a crown - a basketball - a step ) People would walk by and situate themselves under the crown or hold the basketball or pretend to run up the steps. It was amazing. People were so game to partake in this live drawing / animation / cartoon ! They would also yell stuff from their cars - or scream out of the dollar van or yell up to me while on the lift, or hand me a piece of paper with a name of an old Brooklyn hero that I had left out. ( Easy Mo Be - etc ) One young girl had her sister call me from the middle east, where she translated a sentence so I could draw it on the wall for good luck.
Anything accidental or non linear that happened in front of this building ended up on the wall. The mural is a true freehand drawing riff, made with passersby that were fearless, engaged and humble.
I have never been as moved by human beings as I was while working on the building. It was humbling and beautiful experience. I miss the insane, nonstop highway of everyday people. These portraits are remnants of a moment of connection that can happen within any random second, and this playful trust creates a universal humanity that is hard to forget.
FOOTNOTE ABOUT THE PROCESS: I HAVE NO PLAN WHEN I DRAW / IT IS A SPUR OF THE MOMENT PROCESS / A KINETIC IMPROV OF MY MINDS CONSTANT REITERATION OF IMAGES, ASSOCIATIONS AND LANGUAGE. I USUALLY WORK WITH A LIST OF WORDS ( ABOUT BKLYN ETC ) THAT I AM PROMPTED BY.
Below are notes and sketches for portrait scenarios for the wall.