As they have done on downtown streets around the world, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artists Jari “WERC” Alvarez and Gera “GERALUZ” Lozano are excited to work on creating a transformative new public art project that will breathe new life into the heart of downtown Moline.
This week, the couple began a new $30,000 public mural on the west side of 1405 5th Ave., Moline. By Thursday noon, they already applied the base drawing of the mural in black and white on the wall (the painting area roughly 120 feet wide by 26 feet tall).
Over 150 artist submissions were received from all over the U.S., according to the commission.
“WERC and GERALUZ rose to the top in our selection process, with a very engaging proposed mural that is both vibrant and culturally inclusive, and has a level of detail that is very engaging,” Moline Public Art Commission chairman Jeff Dismer said Tuesday. “The prominent artists have extensive experience of producing many large-scale public murals with beautiful artistry, intriguing colorful designs, and cultural diversity.”
The new mural is to be done by an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 25th at 4:30 p.m. with an artist reception to follow inside Analog Pizza and Arcade (which occupies the building).
A couple in real life, WERC and GERALUZ have partnered in making murals over the past decade, including eight in Dubuque (in 2016 and 2018).
There are many stages to the process, but they always research the location and city where they create a mural, and pick subject matter appropriate for the site, they said Thursday.
“Gera does a graphical approach and I do a more figurative approach and then we merge that,” WERC said. They do research about the area flora and fauna, and the Moline mural will incorporate the Illinois state flower (violet) and bald eagles.
“For me, it’s important to have something that’s native and indigenous to the land, so the wall becomes another natural aspect of the place — such as a tree, such as water,” GERALUZ said. “When you look at the artwork, it reflects back your own history, you have a moment of inspiration of your own land.”
“A lot of times, we are people who tell who their state flower or state animal might be,” she said. “I like that, as a beautiful surprise, as a link to the land, indigenous aspect of the mural — is the connection to what was here before people.”
They are not incorporating the Mississippi River, as the Moline Public Art Commission specifically asked not to include a river theme.
“There’s a big consensus in cities to bring people back to downtown, so there’s a lot of revitalization efforts in different cities, to beautify their downtown centers,” WERC said.
Each artist has a unique voice, so “there’s a multitude of ways to express the local symbols and icons,” he said, noting each artist will look different.
They like large-scale public murals, because they are “of the people,” accessible to everyone at any time, WERC said. “It’s always affecting the local community, whether you want it to or not. It’s an antithesis to advertisements.”
“You’re so used to seeing art that reflects the business, so it’s nice to see art that reflects the place,” GERALUZ said.
Large public murals are challenging in dealing with the weather and height (having to stand on lifts to paint up high), she said. “After 90 feet, it’s hard. Up 90 feet, I was getting a little queasy.”
WERC said the downtown Moline site is cool and similar to the buildings they did in downtown Dubuque. They will have three other outdoor mural projects after they finish this one.
“Art in general, and especially murals, they make spaces more livable,” he said. “We have cities that have developed and in a way that doesn’t really serve us anymore. We see our work like acupuncture on an organism we call the city. So we’re adding a little bit of healing — bringing some color, bringing some culture into the area, breathing in some spirit. That’s what we do.”
“We’re excited to put some new art here on the wall downtown,” GERALUZ said, noting people can watch them do their work, usually eight hours a day.
“We’ll work for however long we have to,” WERC said. The pair can typically finish murals within a week like this, he said.
“When you’re an artist, you make artwork because it’s a calling,” GERALUZ said. “I have felt it since I was a child and it has morphed into different things. I’ve had different professions. It wasn’t until I met WERC in Mexico City, I was part of this big cultural festival, that I saw how art can make such a difference for the public.
“Not just for your perception, your perspective of life, of so many themes and topics of the world,” she said. “That has really motivated me to put art in big spaces for people to share. Our concepts are usually about consciousness, about bringing consciousness about the earth and that’s very meaningful to me. At the end of my life, I’d like to have done some good and the good for me is in bringing joy when people see this artwork.
“Those are tiny little things that add up over time,” GERALUZ said. “That’s meaningful to me.”
“Thank you to Quad Cities and we’re very grateful to be here,” WERC said. “We’re proud to be the first ones and we’re excited we won’t be the last ones.”
“When you do something that has connection to people and the land, they take care of it. They love it,” GERALUZ said. “They’re like, ‘Don’t mess with our mural.’ Some murals have historically lasted that way, because communities have owned them, taking ownership.”
This is the Moline’s commission’s first public art mural since it was formed in late 2021, and the commission is excited to provide additional mural and art opportunities throughout the city of Moline, including both local and non-local artists as placemaking plans continue to develop, it said this week.