Art literally under construction

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher

In the month since the Momentum Urban Arts Fest on the east side of Madison (mostly up and down Monona Drive), I’ve been gradually soaking up the results—street art-style murals created during the festival at 17 different spots, most of them businesses that offered up nice exterior walls. One of my favorites went up just across Cottage Grove Road from the event’s host and epicenter, Momentum Art Tech. From the graffiti-centric art shop’s doors, you can see a piece by Miami-based artist DELVS and Ras Terms (who is also from Miami, but says he’s currently on the road all the time). But this isn’t painted on a wall that will face outward for years to come. It spans about two stories on the grey shell of what will become a stairwell in an apartment complex. 

When the piece first went up, this bare vertical structure and a couple others like it were all that occupied the lot. But now workers are starting to build the wooden frame of the development, and gradually the lower part of the piece is getting covered up with sheathing and two-by-fours. As of this week, you can still see it pretty well. 

Most of the insulation and drywall and whatnot has yet to go in, and one of DELVS’ fluidly rendered, multicolored faces still pops out on the first floor. The top of Ras Terms’ part—something like a mask built from intricately interlocked pieces in what the artist calls an “ancestral futurism” style—still also protrudes above what has been built so far. A couple lengths of wood fastened across the open side of the stairwell have a message written on them: “@DELVS102 / THANK YOU MADISON.” 

The two artists have collaborated for years and rarely go into a new work with a predetermined plan. There’s clearly an improvisational rapport in the piece on Cottage Grove—it fits together as a cohesive work, but still clearly looks like the work of two artists with two distinct styles. “We just go up to walls and listen to reggae and punk real loud and start,” Ras Terms said in an Instagram DM conversation this week. 

“We usually argue like a married couple and only like our art when it’s been a week after,” DELVS added. “Think the street art version of I Love Lucy.”

So far it doesn’t look like construction crews will be painting over it or pressure-washing it off. I hope it will end up staying intact under all the layers of building material to come, to be rediscovered later when someone punches through a wall or gets in over their head with some electrical repairs. Let it stay in the bones of the place, covered but not destroyed or forgotten.

“Nothing lasts forever, and gone or not gone, it captures a turning point happening in Madison,” Ras Terms says. 


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New this week:

The quest to bring F-35 fighter jets to Madison is steamrolling vulnerable communities, Emily Mills writes.

Grant Phipps interviews veteran indie filmmaker Hal Hartley, whose newly restored feature Trust screens Saturday at UW Cinematheque.

Madison musician Brian Grimm releases an ambitious new piece that grapples with the experience of grief.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Comics artist and UW-Madison professor Lynda Barry has been awarded a Genius Grant. Tomeka Reid, Mary Halvorson (another of this week’s Genius Grant recipients!), Jason Roebke, and Tomas Fujiwara have announced an October 31 show at Arts + Literature Laboratory. F-35s and a real bad reading of racial history bring us this week’s moment of Madison galaxy brain. Tim & Eric have announced a February 23 show at the Orpheum

This week’s Madison calendar: Shy People at the Chazen. Grün Wasser at The WiscoAnd more.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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