If you’ve recently walked by the intersection of Division and Canal streets, you may have noticed an unexpected garden of florals and designs beneath your feet. No, this isn’t a High Line type deal lowered to ground level, or any environment where live plants grow for that matter, but once you’re strolling over The Lower East Side Business Improvement District’s (LES BID) floor mural, you may be surprised to find yourself still among the speed of cars and the energy of a big city.
“Modern Tapestry,” a mural by artist Kim Sillen, developed through the collaboration of LES BID and DOT Art, was officially unveiled yesterday afternoon. Situated between the sidewalk and moving cars on Canal Street, it’s a little section of the road tucked away from the throes of traffic, where pedestrians can walk a little more slowly on a surface that’s a little less gray and a lot more fun to look at.
Neighbors and friends gathered celebrate the mural’s completion, marking the visual transformation of the 1,800-square-foot plaza. Prior to the start of the three-week-long project, the painting team had to remove the previous pavement markings on the concrete, creating a blank canvas for the paint to be applied. Though the work was tough when the actual painting began, the team expressed its gratitude yesterday to all of the neighbors who were so supportive throughout the process. Some nearby residents had documented the process by taking photos, and one reportedly brought pillows for the painters to rest their knees on.
Sillen, who is also the art director for The Lo-Down, has had a connection to the cultural diversity of the Lower East Side since childhood. Her grandmother was a teacher for 30 years at a Jewish school nearby. One of the designs mimics the pattern of a cut velvet couch her grandmother had. As an adult, Sillen had an art studio on Doyers Street, and walked past the Division and Canal intersection on her daily commute.
The mural is partitioned into six different printed sections, each with its own vibrant and colorful pattern, drawing on Sillen’s experience as a textile designer and her experiences growing up. As a child, she had many friends who lived in Chinatown, and the pattern of pixels on opposite ends of the mural pay homage to the culture and lifestyle of their families.
“The pixels refer to how they came from traditional families but also had very digital age jobs and just seeing how they used that to maintain their Chinese roots but expand them in a different dimension,” she said. “So I just wanted merge a bunch of the different cultures.”
The project first kicked off when the LES BID applied for a grant through DOT Art, a program which aims to partner with community-based organizations to create temporary art that beautifies and brightens the city. Sillen was chosen from among a pool of 30 applicants.
The installation is not only eye-pleasing, but important for encouraging economic development, said Wendy Feuer, assistant commissioner for urban design and art at the DOT.
“What’s interesting to me is that when you transform the form of the city, there are these leftover spaces that cars don’t really want, and people want them,” she said. “And when we take them over for people, they start sitting in here, they start walking around more, the stores do better.”