'Art Can Bring Us Together': 9 Street Artists Respond to the Pandemic
Across the country, muralists are creating COVID-19 street art to inform and inspire. Here are nine public artworks that capture the moment.
As stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines keep many in the U.S. inside, one unexpected group is still venturing out to work: artists. Paint rollers and spray paint cans in hand, street artists across the country are painting COVID-19-themed murals. The murals remind people to stay home and healthy, reflect shared sentiments toward this unprecedented time in history and, in some cases, become beacons of hope. According to Los Angeles artist Corie Mattie, art “brings us together when actions cannot.” Locals may glimpse these public murals during occasional outings, but Livability wanted you to be able to appreciate them from wherever you are, so we gathered some of our favorites in a cross-country mural tour — one you can safely enjoy at home.
1. Venice, CA
“Every difficult time in history was accompanied by art,” says Pony Wave, a tattoo artist who usually splits time between Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii. Her spray-painted image of two people kissing through face masks adorns a Venice Beach, CA, wall. The people remain in black-and-white while florals burst off their face masks calling attention to this protective gear. Through works like hers, “You can see what people [were] going through, what touched people’s hearts,” she says. “Art is the voice of generations, voice of the times. Art is an international language that can bring us all together and help to make things better — together.”
2. Miami, FL
Through Claudia La Bianca’s artistic lens, healthcare workers are not only heroes, they are superheroes. The painter and muralist depicts empowering female images, and her recent mural in Miami is no exception. She portrays four healthcare workers, one wearing a cape and another Wonder Woman’s bullet-stopping cuffs and tiara. “I hope to bring a sense of confidence and inspiration to those nurses that go to work scared,” she says. “Since I created the image it went viral and the response from the nurses has been overwhelming with gratitude.” In April, she was at work on a 104-foot-tall mural at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital that portrays male and female nurses and doctors.
3. Los Angeles, CA
Multi-media artist Corie Mattie has taken her spray-paint can across Los Angeles with messages of hope. In her mural series “LA Hope Dealer,” she paints herself in lotus pose bookended by the message “Close Your Doors. Open your Mind.” In others, she’s pulling on a graph line and flattening the curve, and in yet another her figure weighs staying safe and staying sane. In the most popular public work, she’s opening a coat with the word “Hope” tucked in the inner pockets. Her message here? “Cancel Plans. Not Humanity.”
“It’s a reminder that this is affecting all of us, even if it isn’t affecting someone directly,” she says. She hopes the project is a beacon of hope. “I drew myself as the LA Hope Dealer, but I want it to stand for all of us … This is just a reminder that as horrifying as this time is right now, it is only temporary. We will get through it. Hope is something that doesn’t need distance and doesn’t cost anything. So, if we can provide hope to others, we’re helping the community as a whole."
4. Albuquerque, NM
Health care workers also take center stage in Ritchie Arviso (@skindian_art on Instagram) and Ivan Lee’s mural in Albuquerque. The mural also pays tribute to the “unseen heroes,” like truck drivers and farmers. Nearly everyone and everything in the mural is bedecked with a mask — including red and green chiles and a zia, all iconic symbols of New Mexico. The mural proclaims, “Protect yourself & family. Reduce the risk to others.” Arviso says the artists painted it with the hope that “life goes back to normal soon.”
5. Denver, CO
Painter and muralist Austin Zucchini-Fowler depicts a healthcare worker as both battle-ready and an angel in the piece “Healthcare Hero,” located in Denver. “My family and friends who are healthcare professionals inspired this. I’m so grateful for their efforts,” he says. “I want the community to feel supported and empowered during this time.” In April, he was at work on another, similar work with a different hero as the subject.
6. Los Angeles, CA
With many businesses boarded up due to COVID-19, artists are finding fresh canvases. Muralist and activist Ruben Rojas transformed the plywood across a business’s windows with his duo of murals. “I saw an opportunity not only to spread some love but to also help protect the business with art, he says. Amid the isolation of staying at home, Rojas aims to spread love — a theme that ran through his work prior to the pandemic.
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“Quarantine is a negative buzz word, but it is important to act accordingly to be a good citizen to humanity and help flatten the curve. But you can't quarantine love,” he says. “There are opportunities to use good humor and positivity, even in these times. Yes, we quarantine ourselves — and we do it out of love for other human beings — but love itself is so much greater and more powerful.”
7. Seattle, WA
Street artist TheyDrift and his wife/collaborator had a simple message for their Seattle-based mural: stay home. “We wanted to let everyone know that staying home is the best way, though not always an option. If you do have to go out, please protect yourself and stay healthy,” TheyDrift says. In the mural, a field of yellow smiley faces dance behind a masked face holding up a gloved peace sign.
8. New Orleans, LA
Some artists are capturing signs of the times in their work. Inspired by people stockpiling toilet paper (and the resulting shortage), street artist Bandit depicts two children playing with toilet paper as the rolls unfurl into a heart. “It’s a play on the childhood act of toilet papering a house,” he says. It’s a “cheeky fun mural to lighten everyone up in spite of the current circumstances.” In all, he’s painted three murals in New Orleans.
9. Chicago, IL
In the Windy City, painter Mosher depicts the basic steps of handwashing in a mural-turned-PSA. “I wanted to convey a simple message with large graphics that could easily be seen from the road as people drove by,” he says. “The imagery was meant to be informative while also adding some levity to an otherwise serious situation.” He believes that there’s more work ahead for artists like himself. “The quarantine will likely act as a pressure cooker of creativity as artists tend to reflect the world around them.”