Taking Rochester to Berlin.

Last week was the first week back from Berlin for Roc Paint Division leaders Sarah and Justin.   Along with a crew of fellow WALL|THERAPY artists, many of whom hailed from Rochester, they had the exciting opportunity to join the team from Urban Nation for “Believe/Become,”  a weeklong art exchange that included painting a series of murals, a group gallery show, and an artist talk. Our Roc Paint Division crew loved getting to hear about their experience when they returned, and we thought we would share a little bit of their experience with you-we’re pretty proud to have internationally-acclaimed painters leading this team! Earlier this week, Roc Paint Division youth artist Kasim Wallace sat down with the two of them to ask some questions about the project. kasiminterviews13002549_978645052242484_4097610723510643711_ophoto courtesy Nika Kramer. Berlinshow_opening3

Kasim Wallace (KW): How long were you in Germany?

Roughly 8-9 days, including the 17 hours travel time both ways.

KW: How long did you spend preparing your artwork for your trip?

Roughly 2 months.13048127_791603164309331_2244575186178473843_ophoto courtesy Mark Deff. 

KW: Who else was part of the group?

Between the Wall\Therapy staff, volunteers, and the artists there was a total of fourteen people in the group. It felt “kind of like a big class field trip,” said Justin. “Sometimes it was overwhelming to be travelling with such a big group- things like getting subway tickets and making sure no one got lost could be a lot- but it was also neat that everyone in the group knew each other previously, and had worked together in one way or another. Overall, everything was surprisingly cohesive, considering how different each of the 8 different artists were.”  12973081_785008351635479_3023380910463721800_o13055700_978644692242520_5337226594281526842_ophoto courtesy Nika Kramer. 

KW: Where did you stay?

Most of Sarah and Justin’s time was spent painting near the Urban Nation headquarters in BÜLOWSTRASSE 97, in the Schoenberg neighborhood. They stayed about 15 minutes away, taking a train to and from the site each day. Both Sarah and Justin emphasized how welcoming and supportive a community the Urban Nation was. The two are known for their frequent collaborations here in Rochester, and were excited to have a chance to paint a collaborative mural together overseas along with so many of their colleagues.

KW: What was different about painting in Germany as opposed to painting in Rochester and areas around here?

One thing that was a little bit different was that the community was very used to public art, even more so than here in Rochester. In this area in particular where this project took place, different murals rotate frequently; new things are always going up.

IMG_680713055667_10153747669422933_7853580188106807917_ophoto courtesy Maureen Malone. 

What were some of the obstacles you encountered during your trip?

Communication was sometimes an obstacle, but it was a very multi-cultural community. On the first day Sarah and Justin painted a ramp in a parking garage and had difficulty communicating their needs for a ladder to paint on the sloping surface of the garage drive. Sarah was surprised to realize that some of the German she had studied in high school came back. “I got so used to saying “danke” (thank you) while I was there that when I got back, I just said “danke” when I went to the store out of habit,” she said.

Tell us about some of your inspiration.

Sarah’s piece for the  gallery show, as well as her subject for her part of the collaborative mural,  was inspired by a friend of hers named Deb who has always wanted to visit Germany. Deb even wrote a poem to go along with the portrait Sarah did for the final gallery show. Her piece for the gallery show also included an installation with small scrolls that viewers could take and use to write something about what home means to them, which created an interactive element. Justin’s work both within the mural and his gallery pieces, included Eurasian Owls as well as other birds native to Germany. He also told me about his newfound enthusiasm for the Hooded Crow, which he spotted many of in Germany. He told me if he had known about the Hooded Crow before, has would have incorporated it into his paintings. Both Sarah and Justin are fond of crows—Sarah even said that there a few times when she almost walked into things while trying to see them while walking through the city.

13054972_978643822242607_4115426857784729229_ophoto courtesy Nika Kramer. 

12984061_978644018909254_166911594747833352_ophoto courtesy Nika Kramer. Berlinshow_cornerinstallBerlin_ShowFullSizeRender-9

KW: Would you want to do it again?

 Sarah: Definitely! I really want to go back to Germany, just generally. My grandfather is from there, and it was such an amazing experience to get to go abroad to paint. I really liked taking a little bit of Rochester with me.Berlin_adventure2

KW: Where else would you like to go to paint?

Sarah: I really want to go to Australia- my grandmother was a war bride from there, I would love to go there and paint about that.

Berlin_nest3_openingphoto courtesy Maureen Malone. 











Week 6: Mural Tour Part 2.

The Roc Paint Division team spent part last week taking a second mural tour- we are lucky enough to be based in a city that is so teeming with public art that theres no way it can all be covered within one afternoon. Plus, our project headquarters is just a few blocks from the Public Market, and just within the market area, there are over a dozen murals from the last few years of Wall\Therapy, including several by project leaders Sarah and Justin.  We spent one warm afternoon taking a walk to check them out and talk about the variety of styles, perspectives, and thought processes that they represent.  Additionally, an added bonus of taking the time to go on these mural tours is that it gives the participants the chance to explore photography and play with light and composition, and public art documentation. Almost all of the photos below are by participants Dezmir Phelps, Jarvis DuVal, and Nzinga Muhammad.

Check back for two more updates from us this week: Last week was a busy  and very exciting week for the Roc Paint Division crew; we’ve been  hard at work cutting out stencils for weeks now, and we’ve finally officially moved into the spray painting phase. Later this week we’ll be sharing all about that process, including where we that puts us in terms of our first R-Center mural. We will also be hearing from Sarah and Justin about their trip to Berlin with Wall\Therapy and Urban Nation.


Below, Roc Paint Division’s newest member, Nzinga, shares her thoughts on the tour, the art, and what her first few weeks with the team have been like.


What has your experience of joining the Roc Paint Division team in the last few weeks been like?

My experience has been fun and very informational. I learned more about painting and painting techniques, played some games with the staff, and even painted a parrot onto an abstract piece. I like the tour we took, and I hope to be doing more of those. Public murals are very intriguing.

What did you like about the mural tour that we took?

I liked looking at the different art pieces on walls at the public market. I’ve been there before, but somehow I missed all the beautiful artwork.



week6muraltour-22.jpgDid you have a favorite mural that we saw? What made it your favorite?

My favorite was the “Love Is Sacrifice” one. It is very large and detailed. The woman painted had very captivating eyes.


Were there any murals that you didn’t like as much? Why not?

I didn’t like the arrows one as much. It didn’t speak to me as much; I couldn’t connect with it fast enough.


What did you think of the abstract painting experience?

I loved it. I think it went well for me, to be able to express my weirdness on a blank canvas. The abstract painting experience was enjoyable, even though I got attached to so many pieces we later changed. It was fun.


Nzinga’s favorite photo that she took during the tour was of this beautiful flowering tree, which stopped the whole group in our tracks- such a welcome sign of spring!


The two murals above both show collaborations between Sarah and Justin, our two program lead painters. Our group has gotten quick adept at identifying their respective styles and aesthetic preferences.  Below, Justin explains the backstory behind one of his pieces at the market. week6muraltour-11


The laid-back atmosphere of the walking tour allowed for some bonding moments and close-ups  with our team members: week6muraltour-7


Week 5: Finally, we paint!

The first few weeks of our project have been heavy on brainstorming and sketching — so when the lids of the paint cans were finally opened this week, everyone was very excited! week5abstract-20

week5abstract-23With Sarah and Justin over in Berlin with Wall/Therapy and Urban Nation, we welcomed guest artist Nate Hodge to our team for the week. Nate is a Rochester local who has become known locally for his expressive and abstract style of painting, and we’ve been looking forward to him joining us since the program started.

To get the group ready for working in a totally different way, Nate had the crew warm up with some drawing exercises. Using small frames or “lenses” made from paper, the idea was to find interesting compositions around the room or even outside, and use those to create abstract sketches. This proved to be a bit of a challenge for the team, but also helped with thinking more about framing and abstract composing. week5abstract-5

week5abstract-26Once we moved on to the main event- painting!- we had several canvasses to work on: two 8 x 4′ panels. Each will hang in one of the R-Center’s Teen Lounge areas upon completion.

The two panels were built up layer by layer- starting with the basic parameters of  cool colors for one and warm colors for the other. We started off by working in two groups, one on each panel- and halfway through the first day, the two groups had to switch and work on the other panel. This, like many other aspects of the collaborative process, proved to be a new challenge for the group- to let go of the work they had started and leave it in the hands of their teammates. Over the course of the two days, many members of the team had the experience of starting a part of the mural and seeing it changed as more layers were added.  By the end of the week, the panels had come a long way from where they started, having gone through twists and turns along the way. We had the chance to use both brush paint and spray paint; and the process included guidance from Nate, such as adding in guiding lines, and blocks of color to center and re-focus the composition and various points in its development. week5abstract-22week5abstract-3week5abstract-4week5abstract-25week5abstract-16week5abstract-21

Roc Paint Division-er Maribel Hernandez weighs in on the process from her perspective.

week5abstract-15Describe what the process of using a more abstract style to create these panels was like for you.

At first in this process I felt overwhelmed and frustrated; and its hard when you get attached to your work- letting it go and leaving it in someone else’s hands is so hard- it’s a struggle!

Had you ever done abstract painting before?

I always wanted to do it and never knew how, I felt like I was doing it wrong-to me, it never came out like the paintings.

What were some things that helped you to get past the difficulty of it?

Thinking out of the box. Really, it was my frustration that kind of helped me with that. When we had to do the abstract drawings- that was really hard for me, and then I just started looking at random stuff, like my shoelaces, and that ended up helping me out.

When Nate came in and painted the white lines and some shapes over top of what we had so far, it made it a lot easier because we had some guidance of what he wanted to see and how he does his work- that helped a lot.

What was your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part was finally actually getting to work with paint!! Also- getting to do spray painting with the mask- it feels cool, wearing one of those masks.

It was kind of nice not being told what to do at first, but then it was actually also a little frustrating, that it was so broad.

I enjoyed the very beginning of the process where we were blending the colors. I also liked seeing the different stages in the murals- the difference over time was cool.





Week 4: Its all about collaboration.


Collaborating with others. It is what this whole program is about, and can be such a powerful and transformative experience for any artist…..and it is also, nine times out of ten,  not really an easy process. Making art on one’s own can be challenging enough, but creating something in concert with any number of other people who have their own ideas and working styles?! Indeed, with a team composed of 7 youth artists and 3 adult leaders, all bringing different visions, skills, and experiences to the table with the goal of creating a series of unified murals, it’s a skill that is essential to the success of the Roc Paint Division endeavor.

Last week, we broke the crew up into pairs and smalls groups and gave them the challenge of bringing together their individual visions for our overall theme of growth and creating one unified collage exploring that concept together. Each of the three teams had a very different experience with this assignment, and it seemed that by the end, each group had learned a slightly different and equally important lesson about what its like to work together towards a shared creation.

This week, we’ll hear from Roc Paint Division youth worker Ariel Hicks about how the process of collaborating on this project went for her.


What was the collaboration process like for you?

For me it was a learning process, everyone has a different working ethic and sometimes it was not the same as yours. I found an issue that I had to reshape my vision that I already created and try to mesh it with someone else’s. I am the type of person to find inspiration for a project very quick and when I have a concept I usually follow it through.

How did it compare to how you usually work?

I usually work alone so, I have complete control and am free to do my ideas without the involvement of others. I think that was what my partner issues and me were, that we were both used to working alone. We didn’t have the communication to work together.

How did you initially feel when you and your partner ended up starting over?

That we were still going to face the same issues of lack of communication. I didn’t think that we were going to be able to find a concept, which we both felt like brought of our idea together instead of making it look like two peoples work.

Describe some of your initial ideas for the theme of growth.

The evolution of things as they begin to change form and shape into something they themselves didn’t see them becoming.

How did those ideas evolve as you began working with someone else?

Our original ideas did go through a few different phases where they started to lose the concept. It was more of us trying to start from scratch to try and create something that we both felt met each other’s creative vision. Our first attempt was not successful and it was clearly shown that we both were not happy with the result of our project. One of our managers, Sarah, helped restart using a few things we had created, stating, “ We have the right pieces, it’s all about the arrangement”. Using that, we began to move things around and with the help of Sarah, our communication found a common ground with our project and the results were amazing.

What about it worked?

For me it was being able to learn how to put two peoples work together, and make it into one.

What didn’t work as well?

I don’t think anything didn’t work well– it was a learning process and a good one.


Ariel and Maribel’s experience was in keeping with our project’s overall theme of growth: Being assigned to work on a project with another person was not initially met with overwhelming enthusiasm, and the two went through a bit of trial and error. But they did not give up when they found their initial results disappointing and instead came back the next day and gave it another shot– and ended up with a project that they both felt great about. We were so proud to see these ladies work through the difficulties and end up not only with an excellent collaborative piece, but an invaluable learning experience about the collaborative process as well as the importance of patience and persistence.


week4collaborate-6Dezmir shares the process behind the collage he, Jarvis, and Gabriel worked on together. 

week4collaborate-14Finished results: Clockwise from left: Jarvis, Dezmir, & Gabriel;   Kasim & La’ja; and round two for Ariel and Maribel.  

Meanwhile: the stencil cutting is ongoing and has started to feel never-ending to some team members (not to everyone though- we still have a good share of the team who enjoys the process, and even finds it relaxing). But with only about 2 out of 7 flower designs left to cut, there is  an end in sight and are very much looking forward to how much this hard work will pay off when, upon completion, we’ll have a whole array of beautiful flowers to spray paint to our hearts’ content.


Coming up:


Next week we will finally get to really do what we are all here to do: paint! With two of our fearless leaders off on an amazing mural adventure in Germany, we will have a guest artist, Nate Hodge, taking us in a whole new direction, by leading us in an exploration of abstract painting. Everyone is very excited to get to explore a new style of working together.


Cooper,our reluctant guard-dog and furriest team member.  


Dezmir and Gabriel hard at work.

See you next week!





Week 3: Wall \ Therapy Mural Tour

We kicked off Roc Paint Division’s third week with an inspiration-garnering mural tour.  Rochester is lucky enough to be home to Wall\Therapy, an annual mural arts project that has brought over 100 murals to walls throughout Rochester, painted by street artists from all over the world, since it began in 2011. For anyone living in Rochester, the opportunity it provides to freely view art right on the streets is invaluable, and particularly for young artists.  The chance to explore and discuss the murals here in town, as well as hear some of their backstories, was a great energizer to start our third week working together.



This week,  we will hear from Roc Paint Division’s youth worker Dezmir Phelps  on how the mural tour impacted him.


Dezmir, left, and Justin take in the mural by Jarus in the Fedder Building Complex. 

The mural tour that we took on March 30, 2016 had a pretty strong impact on me. It made me think more outside the box and see that anything can be your canvas, in the art a world and reality. There were many different styles that were amazing to look at, and a persons perception of art can be different for each work of art. Throughout the tour I was a temporary photographer and feel like I got some great footage. At the time of the tour there was a lot of great sunset light that I managed to manipulate throughout the day. Now I honestly enjoy photography.

– Dezmir Phelps, 16   Youth Worker

Some of Dezmir’s images from the tour:



Participant Jarvis Duval also got in on the photography:



Jarvis at work, photographing the “rug” mural on the Ridge Road bridge by Jessie & Katey. 

As our program gets underway, the whole team has appreciated the value in taking time to view and ruminate on the work of other artists- opinions and perspectives varied widely as we travelled from the El Camino Trail to Atlantic Avenue, and it was noted that discussing what some folks weren’t crazy about was just as valuable as pointing out the things that each person liked. All around, the chance to take in a wide range of styles, techniques, and subject matter was both helpful and fun as we work through the brainstorming and planning stages of our own project.

week3tour_lb-1Dezmir and Jarvis pose in front of the mural done by Rochester local Brittany Williams last summer, on Joseph Avenue. Brittany will be a guest artist in our program later this spring. week3tour_lb-4Pose 2 aka Maxx Moses’s mural on the El Camino trail was one of the favorites for nearly everyone in the group. 

week3tour_lb-9Ariel is never far from her sketchbook. 

week3tour_lb-8week3tour_lb-7The massive mural by Conor Harrington, who hails from Ireland, off the El Camino trail caught the attention of the group. While not unanimously loved by the group as some others, it provided great talking points regarding both content and style. 

week3tour_lb-12Many members of the team found this mural by Brooklyn painter Li-hill to be mesmerizing, with many possibilities for interpretation being offered up by the crew. week3tour_lb-13Taking in the nearly 3-D mural by Peeta , of Italy, from across Atlantic Avenue. week3tour_lb-14week3tour_lb-15

week3tour_lb-18.jpgIn addition to providing an excellent interactive learning experience and inspiration from a wide range of sources,  the chance to view and discuss art in the community was a valuable opportunity for the group to get to know each other and share their insights and perspectives. We are all the more looking forward to getting going on our own projects in the next week.