An out­sider’s per­spec­tive on the cedar

U.S. artist An­drew Schoultz dis­cusses his con­tri­bu­tion to Beirut’s pub­lic art

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Sana Sha­ban

BEIRUT: Cola re­cently be­came host to a seven-story cedar. American artist An­drew Schoultz cre­ated the acrylic-and-spray paint ren­der­ing of Le­banon’s na­tional tree on the side of a res­i­den­tial block in the south Beirut dis­trict.

It’s among the works on show as part of “Ur­ban Dawn, Vol. II,” a street art ex­hi­bi­tion show­ing work by 60 artists – 50 in­ter­na­tional and 10 lo­cal – all in­spired by en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion and rais­ing aware­ness of re­cy­cling.

Schoultz said a project cu­ra­tor, an old friend, had in­vited him to take part in this show.

“I’ve al­ways been drawn to find­ing less-trav­eled places to do these sorts of projects,” he said, “and hear­ing about a lot of things go­ing on here, this in­ter­est­ing place, so first and fore­most just to be in­vited as an American artist is an honor.”

When an artist goes into a city for the first time and cre­ates a mu­ral, the artist mused, whether in the U.S. or in the Mid­dle East, he holds a cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“You’re cre­at­ing some­thing in a pub­lic space, that a com­mu­nity or a city [then] has to live with,” Schoultz said. “For me, I take that very se­ri­ously be­cause it’s a big re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“At the end of the day, I’m painting a gi­ant mu­ral, and yeah it’s my art­work, but you know I can hon­estly tell you I sin­cerely have tried to think of some­thing that I think could touch and be rel­e­vant and res­onates with the peo­ple of Beirut.”

Schoultz said he chose the cedar after re­search­ing the coun­try and found this beau­ti­ful tree on the flag. When he learned it was a cedar, he re­searched Bsharri’s Cedars of God grove, say­ing he was drawn to its his­tory. His­tory, he said, is al­ways in­volved in his work.

“This re­ally res­onates with me,” he said, “but I also find that this is a nice idea of po­ten­tially ref­er­enc­ing in the mu­ral. I showed up here not re­ally know­ing what I wanted to paint, which is pretty in­tim­i­dat­ing.”

He said chose a sim­ple idea that can be in­ter­preted am­bigu­ously.

“My idea,” Schoultz as­serted, “was just like, ‘OK, there’s this thing be­gin­ning here in Le­banon, and there’s a lot of de­vel­op­ment go­ing on, a lot of re­growth, re­build­ing, all these dif­fer­ent things go­ing on, a de­vel­op­men­tal stage some peo­ple might say, and so for me to paint, like, this cedar tree, fully tall and strong and dom­i­nant, but also at the be­gin­ning stages of re­growth.”

Not­ing the mar­ket-ori­ented cul­ture of con­tem­po­rary fine art, Schoultz said that he started do­ing art for art’s sake.

“I never re­ally had a plan,” he said. “I just was do­ing what I wanted to do. Then some­how I ended up be­com­ing some­what suc­cess­ful at it. Nowa­days peo­ple come into the art world very strate­gic, all along the root of what they were do­ing was to get some­where, and very in­sin­cere. I never had ul­te­rior mo­tives.”

Schoultz’s goal, he said, is to reach the pub­lic. “Put­ting art in the pub­lic, you’re ex­pos­ing a lot of peo­ple that may not be in­ter­ested in art, to art,” he said. “To me, that’s re­ally pow­er­ful in many ways, es­pe­cially in chil­dren, to be ex­posed to art and be­come mo­ti­vated or in­flu­enced by it. Maybe it doesn’t make them to go paint, but maybe it in­spires them cre­atively with their mu­sic, or writ­ing or what­ever. It’s all one and the same.”

“Ur­ban Dawn Vol. II,” most of which is on show at Ashrafieh’s Fac­tory Lofts, is a trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, staged by cu­ra­tor19.90 – an art plat­form whose founders say their goal is to pro­mote the col­lab­o­ra­tion of in­ter­na­tional artists and cu­ra­tors. “Ur­ban Dawn Vol. I” was staged Sept. 2015 in Al­maty, Kaza­khstan.

“It’s fairly un­com­mon to be or­ga­niz­ing shows in places like, off the beaten path,” Schoultz opined. “A lot of cu­ra­tors love to or­ga­nize shows and put it in some art cen­ter like New York or L.A., which is a piece of cake.

“I think there’s a lot more ob­sta­cles and lo­gis­tics to con­sider when or­ga­niz­ing a show some­where like [Beirut] where there isn’t [a] huge pres­ence of this type of thing ... but if there’s no ref­er­ence for it, I think it’s re­ally chal­leng­ing to get peo­ple on board . ... I think of­ten­times that’s why cu­ra­tors sim­ply like to do a show in Paris or Lon­don be­cause there’s a built-in au­di­ence.”

Schoultz works on his cedar mu­ral near Beirut’s Cola round­about.

Schoultz’s com­pleted cedar mu­ral.

Schoultz says he takes his re­spon­si­bil­ity to the pub­lic very se­ri­ously.

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