Photos by William MorganTransformer boxes are prominent in our urban environment. Yet they rarely rise to the level of good industrial design, although they are incredibly tempting canvases for aerosol can wielding graffiti artists. To try to stem the graffiti, and to perk up these necessary but inglorious metal boxes, the City of Providence's Department of Art, Culture + Tourism organized The Art Transformer Project two summers ago. Local artists were asked to submit up to three designs; if accepted they would be paid $350 for their work. Twelve designers were chosen and 29 boxes have been painted.
One transformer artist is Noémie Jennifer. As the French-born Brooklyn, New York, painter notes: "My designs were adapted from an earlier series of drawings entitled Indexed where each drawing features an index decoding the swaths of marks within the image … I was interested in pairing these organic forms with elements (repetitive mark-making, legend annotation) that brings mechanization to the process and also reframe the image as a potential imaginary map … Working at this large-three-dimensional scale yielded inspiring results that are vastly different than the finely detailed drawings that informed the designs."
That said, my thoughts upon seeing the transformer in the upscale Wayland Square neighborhood (above) were more immediate, less cerebral. African masks, especially those that inspired Picasso's Cubism, and well as African kente cloth came to mind. Sources aside, the paintings are smile inducing, fun, lively, and hard not to like.
The third box (below), on Atwell's Avenue just beyond Federal Hill, shows a much freer hand ("It is always interesting to see what happens when the level of gestural control shifts," Jennifer notes), and the figure-ground colors are reversed.
As Stephanie Fortunato, Art, Culture + Tourism's deputy director, notes, "Civic architecture is less likely to be tagged or graffitied after pubic art interventions are installed."
Even so, it is heartwarming to note that so far none of Noémie Jennifer's transformer pieces have been vandalized. This last location is on the other side the tracks, in a not exactly gentrified neighborhood. Here, a remarkable gesture of respect has been offered by a graffiti artists who placed his defiant signature — not on the box itself, but at its base.
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