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Clark Student Turns Closed Street into Mural

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Downing Street hasn’t been good for much since its closure at the beginning of the semester, until now. Senior art student Sampson Wilcox has turned the closed off piece of pavement into a canvas. A very large canvas.

Different sectors of campus came together to make it work, and Wilcox was thrilled with the opportunity.

“The closing of Downing Street presented us with a unique opportunity but some short term challenges. We were looking to do something a bit different by adding a little color and fun to an otherwise blank slate,” said Michael Dawley, Director of Physical Plant. “The work that Sampson did came out better than we could have imagined.”

“I was approached by … Dawley because he was hoping to have some type of art on the closed section of street,” said Tina Zlody, Program and Events Coordinator for the Visual and Performing Arts Department. “Since I'm well connected with V&PA students they thought I might have an idea who to contact. Sampson is a wonderful artist, and he jumped on the project.”

The Process

Spray paint fumes waft through the air as the artist jumps across a 700 square foot block of street, waving cans of Montana Black as he moves. His steps are almost as artistically executed as the giant street art display he creates in the cool and sunny Saturday afternoon.

He steps back and admires his work. The area has already been blanketed by a layer of white. The edges resemble flames, outlined in black. A tree is starting to take shape in the middle, growing out of spirals of red and hints of purple.

While this larger than life street art mural is a magnificent installation, keep in mind that it’s only temporary. As the newly mounted illustrations depict, Downing Street will soon be turned into a grassy plaza, and the work of art that Wilcox is making will be no more. But he doesn’t mind it.

Freedom in Art

“I don’t believe in those hallowed types of things anyway,” he said. “It’s more doing it. That’s why I was really excited about the opportunity to do this. It was an opportunity to step backwards in time for me.” As Wilcox explained, his mentality toward his artwork has changed drastically from an openminded, undirected process, to something very conceptual and calculated. This was a move “backwards” but felt liberating.

“I approached this piece as the visceral concept of freedom and liberation. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go back to that free flowing feeling that I approached art with.’ I did a couple sketches, but it turned out very differently simply because of the reality of the opportunity – a humongous canvas and being able to do whatever I wanted. I wanted to go back to that original exploring and mark-making.”

The Idea

Originally, Wilcox had planned to do something larger that started more in the center of the closed street around the Goddard Library. It involved the same branching structure and motto, but stretched very far on both sides down the street. While he quickly realized that was too much of an undertaking, he is pleased with the final product and his decision to make Clark’s motto a significant part of it.

“The motto was always a part of the design. It’s kind of saying, ‘What if that motto is worth time to think about – to challenge convention and change our world?’ It’s a corn-doggy part of being a Clarkie, but it’s a nice mantra,” he said. “As I worked out my materials, that was always part of the plan.”

Clark senior Sampson Wilcox is the art student behind the mural.

“The tree came out of conceptualizing Clark as a sustainable school, but the entire design came out of the free opportunity,” he said.

While Wilcox has done smaller pieces on pavement before, he had never tackled something that large.

“Surprisingly the hardest part of doing that was doing that much aerosol work and squeezing your hands for five hours. It’s physically hard,” Wilcox said. “I do so much on the computer – stupid Photoshop things. Being that active and involved was stimulating. It feels almost like a sculpture in that sense”

Wilcox primarily does sculpture now and found it strange to go back to another medium and thought process. Even his way of drawing has changed since his focus in sculpture, and he could tell.

“It was a total vocabulary change to say, ‘I’m going to be fluid.’ I feel like a more rectilinear person now.”

More Murals?

Many students are in favor of the university continuing this trend on murals on campus and would like to see them more in the future.

“Personally, I think it is an interesting idea. It will certainly add to the eclectic atmosphere and culture that Clark tries to promote and that will be a positive concept. I think it will also add to the singularity that Clark has and that in turn can serve to promote the unique atmosphere that we have here,” said fifth-year student Stephanie Brink. While she is in favor of the idea, she can also understand why the Clark may decide against it.

“I can also see some people arguing that it will resemble graffiti if it was placed on the side of the campus buildings. Typically, graffiti may have a negative connotation amongst people that are more conservative within the campus walls and it may deter people that are looking at our college. I personally would love it but I know that may be not the view held by the majority!”

According the Wilcox, city laws may inhibit additional permanent murals in the future. “Sadly Worcester has very strict laws on public art,” he said. “Unless it is considered to be advertisement for a business or organization, there is a permit fee for public murals.” Still, some think it’s worth the investment.

“Even with a charge, I support the idea of more public art on our campus and in our neighborhood. The actual creation of the pieces could be a great opportunity to build bridges between the community and students, and the added beauty and character of murals, or other pieces could add a lot to Main South and the Clark campus,” said senior Ross Nibur.

“We don’t have any other murals planned as the opportunity here is only short term until we begin construction and the road gets removed,” said Michael Dawley with Physical Plant.

Regardless of whether Clark will continue its attempt to beautiful campus in a non-traditional manner, those passing through campus should appreciate Wilcox’s mural while it’s there.


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