The Fairview Avenue underpass has never been one of the more pleasant pockets of the Midway neighborhood. It crosses under a residential street, then a railroad and then six lanes of interstate traffic, each noisier than the last. There’s a steep slope on either end, and the south side is adjacent to a sewage drainage area that sometimes disgorges putrid bubbles of bright orange filth onto the sidewalk. In other words, it’s not where Saint Paul puts its artsiest foot forward.
But this summer things are finally looking up for pedestrians who like their vague urban dread served with a pinch of whimsy. I first noticed the graffiti while walking my toddler to the Merriam Park Library. At first glance, it was a little difficult to pick out what exactly I was seeing. It was a large figure, maybe five or six feet tall, sketched in yellow chalk on the sloping east wall of the underpass. I could tell that the sharp lines and orderly zigzags were meant to be something, but I couldn’t quite place it until my son yelped, “A bear, daddy!” Sure enough, someone had adorned the concrete with a portrait of a shaggy, smiling, slightly manga-esque grizzly bear. I smiled at the effort and continued on my way.
A couple of weeks later I happened to cross under the bridges on the opposite side of the street. It was only then that I realized the full scope of the project. From this vantage point, I could see that the artist had climbed down to the bottom of the barricade that keeps walkers from tumbling down onto Fairview and had finished the bear off with a pair of big, fuzzy feet. That bonus 3-D effect was all it took to upgrade the effort from “kinda cute” to “pretty cool.” In the world of urban artwork, I count that as high praise.
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)