‘Controversial’ muralist back in the spotlight in Cherokee Street-area art show
St. Louis drivers going north on Jefferson Avenue who pass Cherokee Street can’t miss the 100-foot long mural of a nearly-naked crouching woman, called “Prime.” On Friday night, it will be more visible than ever.
“Prime” will be lit up with different colors and adorned with projected photos, as part of a pop-up exhibition at 3401 South Jefferson Ave. called “The Other Girls.”
It’s a collaboration between muralist Faring Purth and local projection artist Raven Fox. Purth said it will bring new life to the original work.
“It lends to something really spectacular in terms of mediums colliding,” Purth said. “And just that energy, of kind of bringing a mural to light in the middle of the dark.”
‘A vulnerable woman, made monumental’
Purth began working on "Prime," which spans the building that holds Nebula co-working space and a Family Dollar store, in early 2014. It wasn’t long before some people in the area complained.
Purth said some reacted negatively to what they thought was the emerging image of a black woman in a submissive position, painted by a white woman. Purth explained that she applied the dark base color before the lighter lines, which may have made the subject appear to be a woman of color.
Others objected to the portrayal of a female breast, a conversation that was explored by the Brooklyn Street Art Blog.
Purth said she didn’t set out to be provocative.
“Without any intention of my own, at times I’ve been pegged as a ‘controversial’ artist,” Purth said.
She noted that St. Louis displays many nude sculptures of women in public arenas such as the Botanical Garden. She thinks that the nude figure may be seen as more acceptable if it’s from an earlier artistic era.
“When you see that in a contemporary form, out on the street, on a wall, feminine energy and nudity —and even if they’re not nude — it can ruffle a lot of feathers,” she said.
Rather than just submissive, she also sees “Prime” as powerful.
“It’s a lot, I think, in this day and age, to have a vulnerable woman, made monumental,” Purth said.
After "Prime," Purth went on that year to create “Cookie,” a mural that adorns an exterior wall of the restaurant Sanctuaria, on Manchester Avenue in St. Louis' Grove area.
During its creation, “Cookie” was defaced with slurs. She painted over the marks and chalked it up as “one of those things.”
“It’s the nature of the beast, working in this field,” Purth said. “For the most part, my pieces are left untouched.”
Indeed, “Cookie” wasn’t marred again. “Prime” has never been defaced.
An artist couple collaborates
Purth met St. Louis projection artist Raven Fox when she first came to to town 2014, from her home base in Oakland, California. They soon became a couple.
“I courted her, and I said that I’d had her back,” Fox said.
Fox began assisting Purth with the scaffolding she uses in her work and accompanying her as she created murals around the United States and in other countries. Now they’re engaged to be married.
Of course, Fox continued his own work in the field of projection art. You may have seen it illuminating the surface of St. Louis’ planetarium, visible from Interstate 64/Highway 40, and inside the Grand Hall of Union Station.
Recently, he’s been working on the plan to spotlight Purth’s mural on Friday night with various colors and some photography, including his own.
“Waterscapes, flower-scapes, some time-lapse photography work that I’ve done,” Fox said.
The exhibition will feature more of Purth’s work inside the Jefferson Avenue space. It will also unveil a new Purth mural on the same block.
“The priority this weekend is to really present something to the world that will be memorable, that Faring and I can be proud of together,” Fox said.
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If you go:
“The Other Girls,” featuring the work of Faring Purth in collaboration with Raven Fox
3401 South Jefferson Ave.
6-11 p.m., Friday