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Good neighbors make good fences: Artists craft 3-D murals to help re-energize Portland neighborhood

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Good neighbors make good fences: Artists craft 3-D murals to help re-energize Portland neighborhood

PORTLAND — Five East Bayside professional artists have begun work on some unusual "canvases" – chain-link fences.

Fastening recycled goods to the links of gritty metal fencing, the artists will depict scenes that relate to the history and life of their neighborhood.

The artists have been commissioned to create four murals, together titled "Good Fences for Good Neighbors," for the Meeting Place East Bayside Neighborhood Celebration, a community open house that will feature art, music, food and recreation on Sept. 29.

The murals will be completed over the next few weeks, and will range from 40 to 60 feet long.

Artist Kelly Rioux began work on her mural, "East Bayside Portraits," last week along a stretch of wire fence on Fox Street. Composed of short strips of the construction material Tyvek donated by Rufus Deering Lumber Co., the mural will portray the faces of neighborhood children.

Each Tyvek strip is tied through a link of the fence, creating dabs of color that Rioux compared to pixels on a TV or computer screen.

She said her mural will include up to five portraits, with a total of as many as 5,000 such pixels.

"I work in portraiture a lot ... and the only way I knew to create a portrait, working with these materials, was to break it down into pixels," said Rioux, a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Before beginning work on the mural, Rioux had to plot out each dab of color on a grid.

"You have to think of the image as something concrete, something that works with the fence, but then build it piece by piece," she said.

Next to a vacant lot between Cove and Diamond streets, along a pedestrian trail, artists Jan Piribeck and Christopher Wright are taking a similar approach with "Blue Wrap Wave." The mural uses recycled medical fabric in three shades of blue to build a wave-like design.

"The goal is to re-purpose the fabric and use it to create a wave motif in response to the wave patterns of the nearby Back Cove," said Piribeck, who chairs the University of Southern Maine art department. "The area surrounding the fence was once covered by water, and is vulnerable to rising sea levels in years to come."

Jonathan Cook, a recent USM graduate who studied in Piribeck's department, is at work on "Woven Wall" near the corner of Congress Street and Washington Avenue.

His mural is made from a tarp he found in his grandmother's house, and has cut into strips that are woven through the chain-link mesh. "Woven Wall" is inspired by an Egyptian Islamic pattern, reflecting East Bayside's heritage as the city's most ethnically diverse neighborhood, he said.

A few blocks away, Tim Clorius began work last week on "Clouds," a mural that uses old fence slats and leftover paint donated by Clorius. His mural will have two locations: a fence bordering the Maine Muslim Community Center at Fox and Anderson streets, and another fence near Piribeck's mural.

"I want to do something beautiful ... but what really interests me is how the community can be engaged through street art," said Clorius, an internationally known graffiti artist who graduated from the Maine College of Art.

He plans to invite residents to participate in the creation of his mural, perhaps by letting them weave the fence slats for a $1 contribution. The proceeds would be used to buy new basketball hoops for neighborhood children.

Good Fences for Good Neighbors and the neighborhood open-house result from a collaboration between the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization and Art At Work, a national initiative started in Portland to engage local government in art-making.

Art At Work recently branched out to make city neighborhoods part of that process through its Meeting Place program.

In addition to Good Fences for Good Neighbors in East Bayside, Meeting Place arts projects are underway in Bayside, Libbytown and the West End, funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I realized that municipal government is only as strong as the community it serves," said Marty Pottenger, Art At Work's founder and director. "I thought, if the neighborhoods and their associations could be re-energized through art, it could make a huge difference.

"The goal (of Meeting Place) is to help each neighborhood reset its notion of itself, and also Portland's notion of the neighborhood." 

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.