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.
I wanted to make the building more than just a mural, and wanted the process of its drawing to be an inclusive and collective experiment in absolute open-ness, spontaneity and connection. Before beginning this gigantic whale of a piece - I set the intention to interact and be absolutely 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 currently houses the New York State Office of Human Resources. The people that work in this building were a huge part of why this project was so special. They are all UP on the building in some way of word, drawing or diagram, and they are a large part of the portraits.
To everyone that went by, I would either ask them to offer me an idea for what to draw, or we would figure out a scenario that I could draw them into. I had made pages of sketches for scenarios that I could draw people into and I brought it to the wall. The headphones, the two fingers touching ( from the sistine chapel ) a weight falling on someone’s head ( from bugs bunny ) a staircase ( Dr. Suess ) etc. I would also leave drawings on the wall overnight ( an umbrella- a crown- a basketball - a step ) and would watch people walk by and situate themselves under the crown or holding the basketball. It was amazing. People were so game to partake in this live drawing/animation/cartoon ! I would paint on found boxes and boards to change things up a bit - People, after a certain point, would just yell stuff out 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 ) One young girl had her sister on the phone from Israel who was dictating a sentence to her in Hebrew that I was supposed to put up on the wall for good luck. Any accidental non linear interaction that occurred in front of this building, ended up on this wall. 80 Flatbush is truly a freestyled drawing riff, made with a community of people that are hilarious, fearless, engaged and humble.
I have never been as moved by human beings as I was while working on the building. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful thing to be a part of, and I miss the insane highway of people as well as the regulars from the building. 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.
I love Brooklyn. I grew up here and I will grow old here. Brooklyn is not about the buildings or the land or the value of either - it is about its people and their character - straight up - that's it.
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 FREESTYLE OFF OF. THIS PROJECT TOOK 40 DAYS / A LOT DURING THE DAY / THE BOOMLIFT AT NIGHT / IT WAS A BLAST /
Below are notes and sketches for portrait scenarios for the wall.