Gallery owner envisions Newark as city of murals

By Naomi Nix | The Star-Ledger
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on August 03, 2014

Posse or Jordan Nickel is one of several graffiti artists being featured in an upcoming mural project in Newark.


NEWARK — For gallery owner Jonathan Levine, Newark's dilapidated buildings and vacant properties aren't the signs of a city in decay but a blank canvas ready for an artist.

Levine, who owns a well-known street art gallery in New York, aims to bring artists from around the world to the Brick City to produce dozens of murals in Newark during the next year.

“We’re trying to create an outdoor museum, like street art tourism,” said Levine, a Trenton native who lives in Rutherford. “I think Newark is an important city.”

Levine has recruited some help for the project, which will start sometime during the next few weeks, from Amer Hanini of the Newark development firm Hanini Group and paint companies Liquitex and Winsor & Newton. The artists will not be paid for their work.

"We just want to make it a destination point," Hanini said of Newark and the murals. "You want to bring artists in because it all goes hand in hand."

One of the artists participating is Chicago native Jordan Nickel or Pose .

“It’s a huge honor,” Nickel said. “I really believe in the power of street art and public art to rejuvenate communities.”

Nickel first became a graffiti artist at age 12 after becoming entranced by the graffiti he saw while riding Chicago's public transit system.

“As a kid I was completely electrified by it,” he said. “It was just this world out there that I wanted so badly to be part of.”

After more than a decade getting into legal trouble as a result of his graffiti work, Nickel transitioned to the professional art world, with sanctioned opportunities. Today, he is recognized for his bold, colorful art murals that often use well-known objects or figures such as a cartoon or a street lamp.

Among the other artists Levine has recruited for the mural project are DALeast, a Chinese-born artist based in South Africa DALeast who is most well-known for his sculpted murals. He is expected to arrive in Newark later this month.

"We specifically put him up in an apartment in Newark for this project," Levine said.

Early next year a Belgium muralist who goes by the name of ROA plans to spend several months in Newark for the project.

As the street art movement continues to grow, communities in other cities have capitalized on the attention. Levine said he is taking a nod from the late developer Tony Goldman, who transformed the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami by putting a series of murals on warehouses.

“Internationally that place is known," Levine said. “That’s what were trying to do.”

Levine still has to finalize the locations of the other murals planned for Newark, but for now, he is reveling in the possibilities.

“I really believe art can be transformative,” Levine said. “That’s kind of the goal with this. that’s why I'm passionate in this.”

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