Saturday, February 16, 2013


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.


  1. hmm... his work looks familiar. I believe his work is all over Manhattan. I definitely saw some wall murals that had that feel to it. He did an amazing job on the church. Looks gorgeous.

  2. This is amazing...I can only imagine what it was like to be there, although you did a wonderful job here describing the feeling:)
    Thanks for sharing something so different and unique!

  3. That is really amazing, sort of pretty but also quite harsh at the same time.

  4. What an amazing place !!!
    I wish I could live there <3

  5. Fantastic. No need to apologize for "extra" photos, for this is something that does need to be shared. You showed us the glow of the colors, and I love that it is covered in so many layers of paint. You can pick up the texture of the old bricks still, even through those layers. It may still be empty, but it is beautiful. It's something that that area needed, by the sound of it. I have to say, there are places here in Indianapolis that I wish could have similar treatments. Something as vivid and intriguing and colorful and happy would be lovely in worn-out and run-down places like the east side. This is just wonderful--in that it inspires a childlike wonder--HOW?

    Magic, I tell you.

  6. What fun! I love a pop of color in a mundane setting...brightens your whole day :)

  7. Oh wow. This looks absolutely stunning, and it sounds like exactly what the area was in need of too. Thank you so much for sharing this, I never would have seen it or even heard of it otherwise.

  8. This looks amazing & I can only imagine the effect it must have in-person! I love it when unexpected colors come together and work perfectly.

  9. I came back to look at this again. This just really makes me want to meet you in person so we can drive around and look at art and take pictures of otherwise insignificant things. Oh, and maybe do all of that while wearing purple unitards.

    Wait, is that creepy? Yeah, that's probably creepy.

  10. I love what you said at the end about childlike wonderment and finding things like this in a coloring book. That really is what it feels like! My favorite shot is #4, where you can clearly see a lot of the architectural details, too. Beautiful.

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    -Melanie @

  12. Wow, that is amazing. I love to see how artists take something that people would otherwise ignore and turn it into something special! What intriguing work, your photos truly captured the beauty of this wonderful piece of art.
    Everyday Inspired

  13. This is amazing!! I think more abandoned buildings should look like this

  14. This is the best thing I've ever seen, I'd love to see it in real life!

  15. Oh wow, I feel like I need to visit the city just for this church! Maybe one day, who knows.

    xx Kaisa

    Ps. Your blog is so cool, I discovered it only today.