by Natalie Campbell
An interview with Cory Bernat and Reggie Black about their mural for the Petworth Community Wall.
If you’ve walked by the Petworth Community Wall at 829 Upshur Street in the past few months, you’ve probably seen a mural featuring a few recognizable neighborhood icons like the Petworth Library, public sculptures by Uzikee Nelson and Lisa Scheer. They’re framed, collaged and layered with a cascade of red dots and energetic, abstract marks. The mural pops and catches the eye as you walk or drive down the street.
The Petworth Community Wall is a rotating space for community artwork that features posters, murals and more, sponsored by Petworth Citizen and Loyalty Bookstore. The wall hosts rotating projects every 4-6 months and features curated projects with local partners such as the DC Public Library and Petworth Arts Collaborative. On view through summer 2019 is YOU ARE NOT LOST, a special collaboration between Cory Bernat, a designer and muralist, and multi-talented artist-designer Reggie Black (director of Mehari Sequar Gallery).
I asked the artists to share more about their process.
Natalie: Clearly this mural is about Petworth. There are aspects I recognize and aspects I don’t, but it intrigues me and pulls me in. Can you explain a little more about the concept?
Cory: When I was offered the wall space, it was right before the Winter Festival on Upshur Street, so I had painted the black border in November with that deadline in mind. Then the weather turned… and I let it sit for a few months.
This is an unusual case where I ended up being so grateful for the severe weather delays. In the seasonal down-time I met Reggie for coffee one day in February and mentioned the wall to him and how it’s not far from where I live on Spring Road. He told me he grew up just around the corner from that block of Upshur and it was clearly very emotional for him to describe how much the neighborhood has changed from his perspective. In that moment I invited him to collaborate with me and I sent him a brand new idea for the wall the very next day. (This is a very quick turnaround!) Our collaboration happened spontaneously and organically and is one of my favorite aspects of this mural.
Do you want to speak a little to your process and material choices here?
Cory: In that proposal I sent Reggie, I acknowledged that my relationship to the Petworth neighborhood is less deep and much less emotional than his. This ultimately was reflected in each artists’ contribution. I am heavily influenced by my training as a graphic designer. My composition was very planned out and I adhered to the border I had already painted.
I created a collaged composition with printed images of two public sculptures in Petworth and the public library I use there combined with some painted elements, too. Then I suggested that Reggie’s more spontaneous brush strokes and graffiti text should be painted over top. He liked what I suggested and our final mural looks quite a lot like what I had proposed.
Can you share more about your role in the project?
Reggie: When Cory invited me to work on a collaborative mural in the neighborhood I grew up in, Petworth, it was amazing to see how the neighborhood has drastically changed. But to be honest it was also ironic to realize how nothing has changed at all. Nostalgic and emotional times. Cory is an architect of design. Her art direction and use of mixed mediums to enhance the relationship of elements within this mural was phenomenal. It’s a perfect marriage of our respective styles. Our goal was to collectively work together but also allow space within the composition for our works to breathe. We wanted to influence each other’s work by disrupting it. It was an honor to work with her. This is a classic example of what can continue to happen when there’s independent creative institutions like @resourcelibrary in the city to unite the creative economy. I love the textures and details of this piece but you have to see it in its full scale.
On the mural, you included graffiti text that reads “You Are Not Lost.” A lot of you artwork includes texts with direct, affirmative, powerful messages, and I wanted to give space to discuss that a bit more.
Reggie: Limitations exist within the mind. For every space or community you don’t feel your voice is represented, contribute to the conversation. Enter the space. Shift the dynamic. Redesign the conversation.
Can you explain the participatory component of the project?
Cory: It was always my hope that this collage would include images of people and have a participatory element. For By the People, neighbors were invited to respond to the Petworth Arts Collaborative theme “What Community Means to Me” by submitting a photograph and letting me photograph them on the spot, print out the image in black and white and wheat paste the cut out onto the wall. We were on Upshur Street all day talking to people and asking them to pose for us. We weren’t sure how successful we would be, but people loved it.