SoHud Street Art Revisited
Necessity remains the mother of invention, though in this case, there are actually a couple of necessities.
The first necessity is to find something to do. The stay at home order in place throughout Ohio has left many looking for activities that don’t involve large groups of people, close contact with strangers, or the ability to access a favorite non-essential business. As the weather warms up, outside activities look more and more attractive. Given these conditions, finding something to do might be as be simple as going for a walk.
The second necessity is the need to see some art. I can’t be the only one who really misses museums and galleries. More specifically, I miss the chance those visits gave me to slow down and experience art in a thoughtful and intentional way. I miss the sense of connectedness that comes from seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. I miss having reality re-imagined and re-invented through individual acts of creativity. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that our cultural institutions are doing everything in their power to make art available remotely. For this they should be commended (and supported). But digital reproductions and online tours cannot replicate the experience of being face to face with original art.
Fortunately, a great deal of original art exists outside the walls of galleries and museums. Just as fortunately, much of that art can be accessed in person and on foot. As CU Reporter Brent Warren notes in his recent article, The Humble Neighborhood Walk Gets its Moment in the Sun, the Columbus Public Health Department supports Art Walks, a citywide program designed to help participants learn about the public facing art and architecture in Central Ohio’s neighborhoods.
Of course, not all public art is of the type or style to be included in metropolitan health initiatives. Some public art flies under the radar. Some public art is more transient in nature, more ephemeral. Some public art needs to be found.
It is here then, driven by the aforementioned necessities, that I offer a brief walking tour of (mostly) SoHud street art. Longtime readers may remember a similar tour from 2011. Looking back, that feature provides an interesting point of comparison, both in terms of the content of the work and the style. It’s also worth noting that (per the transient/ephemeral nature of this particular genre) most of the work featured in that article is long gone.
As we embark, I’ll note that walking is a key part of this exercise. While many of the works presented can be seen from cars and roadways, the opportunity to discover and explore in detail happens when one is on foot. Further, this is art that is part of our world. It should be approached as such. Unlike works that we see in museums and galleries, this work exists in the same public spaces we do. Being present in that space, confronting not just the art itself, but the environment in its totality, is very much a part of the experience. It’s a chance to not just respond to the artists’ work, but to also reflect on the places that work occupies. That said, let’s acknowledge that these places are not always accessible to people with mobility issues. They’re also not particularly accessible (or inviting) to individuals who might not feel safe or comfortable traversing urban environments alone. My hope is that this exploration will provide at least some access and context for those who, for whatever reason, might not be able to examine these works in-person.
The SoHud Mural, located at the corner of Hudson and Summit, is as good a place as any to start. By now this wall’s colorful past is well known to most. Its transition from “Blighted Wall of Shitty Tags” to “Proud Albeit Staid Neighborhood Identity Mural” to “Community Flashpoint” to its current status as “Presentable Gateway to a Perpetually Up-and-Coming Neighborhood” has been well documented. With regard to the mural in its current state, it’s notable for both its relative lack of controversy and for featuring the work of a number of local street art luminaries (including Birdy and Dr.selr77).
Just around the corner from the SoHud Mural, on the back wall of the same building, viewers can find Stephanie Rond’s Echoes of Kindness. Rond has established herself as one of our city’s most talented and prolific artists. Echoes is typical of her work; incorporating stencils, wheatpaste application, and figures into an image that’s pointed, poignant, and surreal.
Speaking of surreal, make sure you take a moment to walk west on Hudson Street and pause in front of the abandoned Hudson Theater. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a pair of creepy double exposed figures smiling vacant-eyed smiles from beneath their Dorothy Hamill wedge haircuts. Silly? Maybe, but if you came of age when the terrors of youth were informed by young Damien in The Omen or those hellish twins in The Shining, then you’ll recognize instantly that this is the stuff of nightmares. Extra credit should be given to our unknown artist for pasting these up on a derelict theater that had previously served as both a church and a porn house. As mentioned above, location matters.
A bit further west on Hudson, in front of the 14-0 Carryout and sharing the same pole as the husk of a long-gone pay phone, is a similarly arresting image. Pasted to the back of a metal sign, viewers will find a series of black and white bunny skulls that are by turns cute and terrifying. The complete lack of context or message, combined with the stark graphics and willful repetition, makes the presentation all the more arresting. If malevolent zombie bunny overlords were indeed planning world domination, this cryptic bit of visual ephemera would likely be our first sign.
Anyone who has driven westbound on Hudson and under the railroad bridge has likely noticed the image of a suffering Christ pasted to the northern pilaster. If you looked closely, you may have even noticed what appears to be a Pabst Blue Ribbon logo above and to the right of Christ’s head. Had you given it any thought beyond that, you might have assumed this was someone’s sardonic take on the “religion of capitalism.” What you would not have seen (and here again is the advantage of being on foot) is that the label reads, “Nolan Blue Bauer 7/10/92 – 8/27/17”; a dedication that provides a sobering new meaning to the work.
A half block south of Hudson, at 2498 Summit St., viewers can find a number of pieces on the side wall of Layla’s Hookah Lounge. This wall has featured a variety of artists over the years, with the current iteration highlighting (among other works) an aquascape by Dr.selr77 and a portrait by Sole. Works by both artists can be seen at various spots around Columbus, and both display a versatility that’s not always found among those whose chosen medium is spray paint. Sole’s work is particularly informed, hinting at a variety of touch points in art history, not the least being the 3/4 pose and crossed hands of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, a clear reference to one of Philip Guston’s cigarettes, and maybe Frida Kaho’s crutches?
One of the more charming works along this walking tour depicts a large male cardinal holding a buckeye sprig in its beak. This piece, located at Clinton Street and Dixon Alley, is notable primarily for its unapologetic naturalism. In a neighborhood that’s seen its share of offbeat, provocative, controversial, and, well, weird art, the cardinal stands as a kind of resolute reminder that…I don’t know…the cardinal is our state bird and the Ohio Buckeye is our state tree. Still, setting blatant boosterism aside, this is a great piece; unassuming, well executed, and very much in touch with its environs.
Following on the theme of nature, the small jellyfish ornament near Fifth Avenue and Hamlet Street (further south in Weinland Park) is an interesting piece not just for its imagery, but for its history. The jellyfish has been a presence in Columbus graffiti and street art for years. Depending on who you ask, it is either the scourge of the Short North or something that is “kind of fun…and at least it’s not a shitty tag.” Of course those jellyfish were done in paint. This one is different. It appears to be painted on acrylic or Plexiglas and affixed to the wall with adhesive. This leaves viewers to wonder, has the jellyfish creator switched mediums, or has someone else appropriated the image? Given the secretive nature of many street artists, we may never know.
In the alleys near Maynard and Indianola Avenues, viewers might find a couple of wheatpaste posters of the agitprop variety. To: ICE & Border Patrol presents a pair of accusatory questions superimposed over an innocuous pink-tinged floral arrangement; the tension between pretty flowers and kids in cages being the main thrust here. This work is part of the Unapologetically Brown Series; a collection of posters and street art accouterments developed by the artist Johanna Toruno and employed to shine light on issues of police brutality, racism, inequality and LGBTQ rights. Based in New York, Turuno creates works that can be downloaded for print and display by anyone around the world. Close by Toruno’s work is another socially-charged piece that promotes the notion of fluidity in gender expression while suggesting an acceptance of all identities.
Which brings us back to street art and its place in our world. These works represent a form of expression that is individuated, and tailor-made to a particular place and time. They also represent a very human-scale a response to the public spaces we share. Through placement and proximity, street art offers a willingness to engage us, the viewer, in the very spaces we live, work, and play. Street art invites us to look not just at the art, but at our world. There’s something hopeful in this work as well. It’s the belief that we can change the world. That we can literally make things different. These days, I think that’s a hope worth hanging on to.
The street art of Columbus will be on view until it’s taken down, buffed off, painted over or scraped away. To view today’s work, go out for a walk. Explore. Today.
All photos by Jeff Regensburger
For more information on the artists and work described above see: