I've put off writing this post for weeks because HENSE's latest installation in DC is one of those artworks I have so many thoughts and feelings about it's hard to express them coherently in a short blog post. (And I should warn you now that this is a pic-heavy post.)
I first read about this project last October (when it was still being painted) and made a mental note to check it out at some point. Atlanta-based artist Alex Brewer, a.k.a. HENSE, was commissioned to paint this old boarded-up church that had long been in disrepair. It had apparently been for sale for many years with no takers.
I had seen photos of HENSE's murals in the past, and I expected the church to be similarly colorful and cool and as one person described, "sherbet-y." Obviously, I'm totally down with all of that. But I wasn't expecting it to be beautiful, and breathtakingly so. I will try to give you an idea of what it's like to see it in person.
You walk down Delaware Avenue in Ward 6 where a lot has been planned for the future but not a lot is happening right now, and you pass by some apartments and an old abandoned school and suddenly there's this explosion of color. And as you get closer you start noticing all the patterns and shapes and variations of color, and your heartbeat quickens in step. Moving around the building, there's just so much to see: each section is like its own abstract painting.
To have all of these fields of bright color and dots and scribbles flowing over and around traditional architectural details like arched windows and dentil moldings makes this mural all the more exciting. I have always liked contemporary art juxtaposed with traditional settings. When beautiful things of different eras come together, something altogether new is created, something that sparks curiosity and possibility.
And when sunlight hits all those pretty pastel shades, the church practically glows. It's the kind of sight that just makes you sigh and smile and wish you could hold onto that image forever.
There are so many amazing angles and details, I could have stayed there happily taking photos all day.
When you get up close, there are layers and layers of paint, all in vibrant, colorful shapes and drips and drizzles, all building upon the textured facade. This weathered structure already had layers of cracked and peeling paint, and I love that you can still see those cracks through HENSE's painting. It's like the discovery of generations of multicolored paint and wallpaper layered one over the other that happens when one buys and renovates an older home in DC, each era leaving its mark.
The overwhelming sense I had when looking at this amazing building for the last time before walking away was that it was like something you imagine when you're a kid--this crazy colorful church--but that it exists only in your imagination, or perhaps on the pages of a well-used coloring book. But this is real! HENSE has made something here that is wholly new and special and will undoubtedly inspire many artists (young and old) for a long time to come.
And I have to say, I love living in a city that still surprises me after all these years.