WALL\THERAPY 2015 informally kicked off over the holiday weekend with the installation of a gargantuan wheatpaste mural, "Bollywood Sugar," on The Playhouse/Swillburger building by Amsterdam-based artist Handiedan. The striking digital collage of bold imagery — which includes many flourishes, flowers, and architectural bits surrounding a large central pin-up figure — earned cheers and honks from people crossing the busy intersection at South Clinton and Meigs.
"It was a great warm up to everything, and really set a nice tone for this year," says Erich Lehman, WALL\THERAPY co-curator and lead organizer. "The response has been pretty overwhelmingly positive."
Handiedan and her partner, who spent four days painstakingly pasting the precisely-cut paper around the windows of the former church, were this year's early birds, as scheduling conflicts prevented them from joining the rest of the artists during the festival proper later this month (July 17 through July 26).
Though any art exposed to the weather is vulnerable, paper is especially so. But this hardy work has been sealed against the elements, and the artist estimates that the mural will last up to two years.
Earlier this year, WALL\THERAPY organizers announced a partnership with URBAN NATION — a Berlin-based organization that supports street art and aims to create the world's first museum dedicated to the form — for the launch of an international exchange program between Rochester and Berlin. Lehman says the group will be doing a WALL\THERAPY-curated show in Berlin in early 2016.
The connection was made last summer when URBAN NATION director Yasha Young visited Rochester to check out Berlin-based artist Addison Karl's in-progress mural at the Fedder Industrial Complex. After learning more about WALL\THERAPY and its sister project, IMPACT! (IMProving Access to Care by Teleradiology), Young extended an invite for collaboration.
IMPACT! seeks to provide easier access to medical care for people in underdeveloped and underserved regions of the world through cloud-based x-ray services and a network of volunteer radiologists. Both WALL\THERAPY and IMPACT! are projects of The Synthesis Collaborative.
The festival theme for this year is surrealism and the fantastic. In addition to Handiedan, Young has invited Stockholm-based artist Andreas Englund, Switzerland-based artists Onur and Wes21, Switzerland-based duo NEVERCREW, New York-based Australian artist Vexta, and Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Li Hill.
The other half of the participating artists are curated by Lehman and WALL\THERAPY founder and co-curator Ian Wilson. They have invited old-school graffiti artist Daze, who is based in New York City and returns to Rochester after participating in the 2013 festival; Jeff Soto and Maxx242, who are both based in California; and Eder Muniz, who is based in Brazil but has painted many vibrant murals in Rochester over the years.
This year's local artist selections include Nate Hodge, Brittany Williams, Matthew Roberts, and Joe Guy Allard. New York City-based painter and illustrator, Tara McPherson, was set to participate as well, but due to unexpected circumstances will not be able to attend this year.
WALL\THERAPY 2015 will kick off on July 17, with an art show titled "IMPACT!" held at 1975 Gallery featuring the work of all participating artists. A percentage of all sales from the exhibition will go directly to support the mural fest's philanthropic sister project.
In addition to the opportunity to watch the progress of the murals, the week will feature a movie night hosted by Brooklyn Street Art founders Jaime Rojo and Steve Harrington, and the annual FLOOR THERAPY dance party, hosted by The Lobby at Bug Jar.
Lehman says this year's murals will be clustered around downtown, returning to past areas, such as the Public Market, and adding some new sites as well. But the exact locations won't be revealed until closer to the start of the festival. "It's not so much a targeted neighborhood this year," Lehman says. "With the topic being 'surrealism and the fantastic,' it's better served spread out, so that it's not a concentration of so much of that kind of work."
This is the fourth WALL\THERAPY festival, but the fifth year since the project's birth. "It's really exciting to see that people's enthusiasm for the event is still strong," Lehman says.
An upgraded, and mobile-friendly WALL\THERAPY website launched this week, featuring up-to-date artist bios and photographs from the past years, and an easier to navigate, searchable map of the murals. A printable PDF guide of this year's mural locations is coming soon.
City Newspaper will post more information as it's released. Follow @WallTherapyNY and @roccitynews on Twitter and Instagram for updates, and visit the online version of this article for links to preview the work of this year's artists.