PROVIDENCE — For the past week, Spanish artist Octavi Arrizabalaga has been slathering color on the nearly windowless grey backside of a new luxury building in the Jewelry District. The paint, primarily reds, oranges and yellows, reflects the historic brick buildings that surround the contemporary structure on the corner of Richmond and Friendship streets.
Arrizabalaga said the two murals represent the industrialization of Providence, as well as the people “who made that history possible.”
One, which is about 60 feet high, reflects a woman holding a sledge hammer and represents a “goddess of work.” She has green leaves in her hair, one of her strong hands appears to be made of stone like a Roman or Greek statue, and a daisy is pinned to her skirt.
“I wanted her to look as though she was put together in some sort of collage of various art forms,” said Arrizabalaga in an interview. “In the background, you can see various colors I initially used, such as the green behind the red, or a brown behind an orange.”
The layered effect, which Arrizabalaga called “mistakes on purpose,” adds dimension to the painting, popping out toward the sidewalk instead of laying flat. He uses colors that are reflective of the environment around him.
The other mural, a horizontal piece that is approximately 100 feet wide, depicts seven workers in various uniforms pulling a rope in the same direction. There are both men and women, including one who is wearing a police officer’s uniform. Another is a woman wearing what appears to be a factory dress, with her hair pulled to the side.
“They’ll all pulling the rope in the same direction. Because if we don’t all pull together, things can’t happen,” said Arrizabalaga. “That’s the way it was back then.”
The Avenue Concept, the privately funded public art program founded more than a decade ago, had commissioned Arrizabalaga — better known for his artist name “ARYZ” — to coat the backside of a brand new mixed-use building. The building, Emblem 125, will soon include 249 luxury residential units and nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space. The project first broke ground in October 2020 on the former I-195 land, and is expected to be complete sometime this summer.
And it won’t be the only art at Emblem 125. When the building does open, a grand lobby will feature two-story ceilings and original artwork curated by ArtLifting, a nonprofit championing artists impacted by housing insecurity or by disabilities.
In preparation of constructing the mural’s design, Arrizabalaga said he dove into research about Rhode Island’s history, particularly when it came to how the Industrial Revolution impacted the city of Providence.
The Industrial Revolution lasted from about 1820 to 1870, where the economy shifted from being based on agriculture to industries and machines. And Rhode Island was was especially known for its textile manufacturing, and later its jewelry and machinery. Items that were made in Rhode Island’s factories were shipped by train and on ships through Providence.
Arrizabalaga said he didn’t want to focus on a specific sector but to represent the many “hard years” it took to construct a modern city from scratch, and the anonymous workers who built it.
This section of the city has now largely converted many of the old factories and mills into research offices owned by area hospitals, campus buildings for Brown and Johnson and Wales universities, headquarters for start-up companies, and apartments where exposed brick and beams are a draw.
“After doing the research I did, I didn’t want people to forget the history of their neighborhood” as it changes, said Arrizabalaga.
Having the Avenue Concept bring Arrizabalaga, who was born in Palo Alto, California, but moved to Cardedeu, Spain, at a young age — where he still lives and works — is yet another addition to the city’s public works by international artists and American creatives with international reputations. Other artists, such as BEZT of Poland, Mik Shida from Australia, and Nychos from Austria, all have pieces that scatter the city, in addition to American artists like DAK.1NE from Hawaii, Gaia of Baltimore and Lauren YS (also known as Squidlicker) from Los Angeles.
Arrizabalaga earned his artist name, ARYZ, when he started painting graffiti in the early 2000s and then in 2007, he started painting big surfaces along the abandoned factories on the outskirts of Barcelona. In 2010, he received wide recognition for his work, and gradually started participating in cultural projects and events. He’s left a trail of paint on murals and large-scale displays in Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark, Poland, China, Madagascar, and the United States.
Street Art News said he is “one of the most talented artists working in the field of Urban Art.” And Juxtapoz, an art magazine based in San Francisco, called his murals “game changing.”
Arrizabalaga also recently published “Outdoors”, a book that compiles much of his public space productions from the last decade.
The Providence murals mirror similar projects Arrizabalaga has worked on in other parts of the world. He said he applied the texture of the lines and the different thicknesses of the strokes that he used before in murals in Tokyo and Versailles.
“I like to keep my mistakes in the art,” Arrizabalaga said. “If I do change something, I like to make it obvious that there was something else behind there once — whether that’s a different color or shape.
“When people look at this mural, they’ll see my imperfections and expression,” he said.
View ARYZ’s mural from 144 Friendship Street in Providence. It’s the backside of Emblem 125, which is a mixed-use luxury building located at 125 Clifford Street in Providence.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.
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