An outsider’s perspective on the cedar
U.S. artist Andrew Schoultz discusses his contribution to Beirut’s public art
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.