The Daily Heller: Murals and Morals

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Jesse Kreuzer is a lifelong artist (he received an MFA from Cornell in 2016). In addition to painting, he makes videos, sculpture and performance pieces, and yet, "I usually feel like an outsider to the art world." In fact, during this year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations, one of his Diego Rivera–inspired murals painted on plywood used to protect the Whitney Museum of Art was summarily removed. "There is a certain irony here," he wrote in New Politics, "since the current exhibit is about the Mexican muralists and their influence on American painters."

Below he talks to me about his recent work in this socio-political mural tradition, and where he is going to next take the medium.

When did you begin doing the murals?

I started the first mural at the end of June, on the plywood barricade at the Whitney museum.

For what purpose do you do them?

The murals are meant to support multi-ethnic democracy and peaceful protest, and to condemn abuse of power and political violence of any kind. Most New Yorkers already agree with these ideas, so the murals are mostly an act of solidarity, but also a way to open conversations with people who don't agree.

The original motivation was an outlet to mitigate my own sense of helplessness.

How do you feel these—and murals in general—impact viewers?Painting can make an awful scene compelling—the right aesthetic allows us to look longer … maybe consider ugly issues with more attention. Public murals confront you when you're going about your day. This might allow people to make different connections than if they were in a museum. I hope that viewers who don't share my politics are taken by the work I've done, and ask questions. This has been my experience. I've had many political discussions and disagreements while painting these outside. The interactive and performative element of the work is satisfying.

Where do you show them?

They are shown where they are painted. So far: outside the Whitney, outside the Museum of Sex, Union Square, Horatio Street, and Gansevoort Street in Chelsea. I'd love the opportunity to show them with an institution or gallery.

There is a Guernica quality to them—perhaps it's the grey and white. Is this purposeful?

The Guernica association is because of the greyscale, the contrast, the movement and the chaotic imagery, and maybe because the figures are stylized, though not abstracted. I have actually been thinking about Rivera, Orozco and Rubens (the Mexican Muralist show was the last show I saw at the Whitney, and [was] still up inside the museum while I painted the outside. I'm flattered by the comparison to Guernica.

What has the response been?

Most people say they're beautiful, which surprised me. People who stop are often interested in discussing politics, from all parts of the political spectrum. I really welcome those conversations. I think the visible labor of the mural establishes my sincerity. That, as well as the lack of words, makes them harder to dismiss.

What projects do you have in the making?

I've started a mural on 12th Street and 2nd Avenue, though as I say this it may be taken down or painted over. I'm trying to find a home for the 12' x 27' mural on Gansevoort Street. … I'm also quietly working on a series of drawings I hope to publish in a book.