Harmless or Foul Play: Artist drips paint on virus murals
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In the wee hours of Saturday morning, someone stalked Frenchmen Street squirting streaks of ketchup-thick paint on many of the much-beloved, graffiti-style murals that had sprung up over the past weeks during the coronavirus lockdown.
Fans of the work were outraged by what they assumed was vandalism. But the artist who marred the artwork has now apologized, saying he felt he was just adding another layer of coronavirus commentary to what he viewed as “an open, interactive artwork.”
Since they first appeared in April, the Frenchmen Street paintings have been a phenomenon. The graffiti-style works are the backdrops for countless selfies taken by claustrophobic street art lovers as they strolled the joyful ad hoc exhibit.
But as the sun rose on Phase 1 of New Orleans’ comeback from self-quarantine on Saturday morning, onlookers discovered disconcerting splashes of paint on several of the murals. A security camera photo posted to social media seemed to show a vandal in the act.
On Monday afternoon, the 30-year-old street artist known as Mr. Balloon Hands stood on a stepladder repainting his ruined mural — a psychedelic house plant with a giant cyclops eye — which he’d applied to the shuttered windows of the Three Muses restaurant-music club.
He was philosophical about the damage. Being tagged or painted over is part of the street art game, he said. But this painting was special. He said he’d originally painted the mural as a tribute to his mom on Mother’s Day. He surprised her with the painting, and they took a picture together in front of it. He didn’t want to see it obliterated with a white scribble.
So he repainted the weird flower but let the vandalism remain visible in the background. It was part of the painting’s history now.
What concerned Mr. Balloon Hands, who declined to share his given name, was that the person who’d scribbled atop his Mother’s Day mural had apparently been identified and was the target of a wave of vitriolic online criticism.
“This guy is getting shamed pretty hard,” he said. “But, hey, it’s cool. It’s going to get fixed.”
Josh Wingerter, who was the first artist to get permission to paint on the strip of shuttered clubs and restaurants, is also sanguine about the situation. Wingerter said he plans to do some restoration of his Frenchmen Street paintings. But having his street art altered or even obliterated isn’t unusual.
“My stuff usually lasts three weeks or a month,” he said.
Like Mr. Balloon Hands, Wingerter said the rancor directed at the paint-splattering perpetrator made him uneasy.
“I was less upset about the art and more upset about the people being upset,” he said. “As an artist and father and another human being, I think the dude just needs a hug.”
Seventy-five-year-old artist Amzie Adams, known for his long beard, top hat and wizard’s cane, isn’t as forgiving. Adams’ self-portrait in the doorway to the Frenchmen Art and Books bookstore was slathered with a cascade of rust-red paint that he found ominous.
“I’m an ex-Marine. I was pissed, man,” Adams said. “Somebody purposely put blood on my face; it was personal.”
Adams said that after he began making attempts to locate the person he believed was responsible, a fellow artist called him to own up to marring the self-portrait as well as the other murals.
“I’m very distraught,” said Steven Bochinski, the man behind the late-night paint outburst. “I never intended anything bad to come of this.”
Bochinski, an abstract expressionist painter and photographer, said causing paint to run in rivulets down the surfaces of the other artworks was supposed to represent tears, symbolizing sympathy for the victims of the contagion. Some of the mural subjects, he said, had little to do with the coronavirus crisis, so he felt he was adding a measure of “reality.”
He said he believed the Frenchmen artworks were supposed to be “very temporary and transient.” So, on the day before New Orleans was to begin reopening, he added a final flourish.
Bochinski, who does not typically create outdoor art, said he was taken by surprise by the online outrage, that he’s been threatened and that he’s done his best to reconcile with the muralists whose works he marked. In Facebook comments, he apologized.
But Adams is still a little miffed.
“I think he got caught and now he’s puling an excuse out from under the bed,” Adams said.
Nonetheless, Adams took down his original Facebook post describing the incident that had become a lightning rod for criticism of Bochinski. The one-time Marine has accepted the olive branch … conditionally.
“I forgive him. I mean, what you gonna do,” Adams said. “But don’t do it again to my stuff.”