Andrea Mastrovito is a multi-disciplinary artist who was recently in New York for a residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in Bushwick. His practice is quite diverse and involves everything from republishing pre-existing material to painting on canvas, to cutting various pages of books and magazines in order to create a three-dimensional installation that when hit with a stream of air seems to come alive. For his residency at ISCP he elaborately and tirelessly planned a performance that took place in a church lot, that is planned to eventually be a playground. The artist recruited children to play soccer. That’s right, soccer. He painstakingly stenciled drawings onto the surrounding walls and on the perfect day (several of the performances were cancelled due to unsavory weather conditions) he pulled it off. The children were invited to kick soccer balls around the lot and doing so, marked the walls with black dust that would later be affixed. The stencils were removed and a mural, made with a collective effort, now exists for all to enjoy. I recently spoke with Mastrovito about this process, his chosen materials, working with children and his love of soccer.
Katy Diamond Hamer: Congratulations on carrying out the performance and having the results you hoped for! Can you talk in more detail about the materials, how the mural was “fixed” to be permanent?
Andrea Mastrovito: It took two days to create the big wall drawing. In those two days, I worked with about one hundred children – age between 5 and 15 years. They were mostly from South and Latin America -Ecuadorian, Colombian, Mexican- while others were from Puerto Rico. We used fifty soccer balls and 70 pounds of tempera powder, mostly black: I chose tempera powder because it’s non-toxic (while in my studio, as you may remember, I used graphite powder, which is really toxic and of course I could not even imagine to use it with 100 children!)
The day after the big performance, together with many assistants, I sprayed an anti-uv acrylic coating on all of the images.
Once the acrylic coating was dry and the drawings were fixed, I started spraying a solution of water and glue, in order to create a pellicle which will preserve the wall drawing from rain. I sprayed almost 10 coats of this solution. The result should last for many years. In August or September the big courtyard will re-open to the public after 20 years, as a free playground, and the big mural will be its permanent decoration!
As for the stencils, I spent two months with the kids of the community, “teaching” art history and trying to explain to them that they can create incredible things even if they don’t have much money, even if they don’t have anything but a soccer ball and some dirt, dust or powder.
I showed them many examples of mural art, from Giotto and Michelangelo to Banksy and Blu, but the most meaningful was Andrea del Sarto’s “Chiostro dello Scalzo” (1511-1526) in Florence (one of the most incredible masterpieces I have ever seen) . Here the artist, was commissioned by the poorest friars in town, to make a series of frescoes and decided to paint the white wall just with grey, white and black because the friars had no money to buy the colors. The result? The most contemporary fresco of the Renaissance!
KDH: I like that you also were able to teach them about art, commencing with the Renaissance and leading up to today. How did you go about selecting stenciled images/drawings for this site-specific location?
AM: I explained to them that they were going to draw and paint just by kicking the ball. Then I asked them: what do you want to paint?
During the lessons, they gave me hundreds of ideas. Many drawings, suggestions, and many notes where they wrote what they love most.
I compiled a list of all their interests and decided that I would try to put them all into the final design. That’s why in the mural starts with a large tree (trees and flowers were the “blockbusters”) and continues with images of, in no particular order: a monkey, a cat, a man wearing a superman t-shirt pulling a kart with: flowers, diamonds, hearts, stars, a skull, the world, a juggler, a dog, Pokemon, Kratos the god of war, Jesus, soldiers, self portraits (they took pictures of themselves during the lessons, and they also personalized the t-shirts worn in the wall painting), One Direction -well, yes, I had to include them, please forgive me-, a dancer, a unicorn, a Manga girl, a boy playing with a small airplane, a dolphin, an image of myself (of course I included my portrait, it’s my trademark…), Darth Vader, birds, a Giraffe and fallen twin towers.
KDH: Wow! That’s a lot of content.
AM: All of the images are tied together by a rope, to symbolize that, even with all their differences they are a community, and moreover the rope (the line) underlines my conception of life as a never-ending cycle.
This project was born from an idea that I had last winter, looking at the mark of a soccer ball on a wall in that very area. So I searched for the right location until I found the big courtyard of Saint Joseph Parish: the two priests, Father Vincenzo and Father Claudio, are Italian so I explained my idea to them and we started working in the spring (2014). While I taught art to the children, many volunteers re-built the walls of the courtyard, which were dirty and precarious, preparing the “field” for our special soccer match! I was supported by many people and many sponsors, and ISCP who helped me so much. In the end I was so incredibly tired: we had no money except for the material, so we had to cut all the stencils by hand. Crazy.
KDH: How was the overall experience for you?
AM: I must tell you that it has been an amazing experience. In the last several years I’ve been working more and more with people and my aim is to give new life to the idea of drawing and painting. Also, I was really surprised by children’s reaction during the performance. Initially I was afraid that they would get bored after few minutes. On the contrary, they kicked the balls against the wall for 5 hours, smiling and having fun (completely dirty, of course). I loved it.
KDH: The timing of the completion of the performance is perfect in relation to the World Cup! Have you been watching?
AM: Of course I am watching the World Cup, I am Italian! Well, the Italian team isn’t very strong, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.
As for the timing, well, it’s almost a coincidence. I say “almost”, because these children mostly come from [soccer loving countries such as] Mexico and Ecuador, both of which have teams participating in the games. I took that into consideration at the inception of the project, knowing that they would be more enthusiastic about soccer because of the World Cup!
All images courtesy of the Artist, 2014.