Blank Space Mural Project (BSMP) and Birmingham artist Andy Jordan are teaming up to bring more color to the walls of the city with a 90-by-30-foot mural in the theater district.
Last September Kyle Kruse, a real-estate developer and co-founder of BSMP along with his wife Stephanie Kruse and Meghan McCollum, reached out to Jordan through a mutual friend and told him about their idea to put a theater-themed mural on the side of the Whitmire Building (1826 Third Ave. N.), which Kyle Kruse owns, across the street from the Alabama Theatre.
Jordan, an oil painter, has completed two murals for Birmingham Breadworks, but the theater mural is “the largest surface I’ve ever played on,” he said. At first Jordan wanted to paint interior scenes and portraits of celebrities; however, after stumbling upon an image of a television broadcast signal on the internet, Jordan changed his mind. It was around November when Jordan sent his new idea to BSMP.
“The broadcast signal came up, and while looking at it I was thinking about what a broadcast signal is. And it’s kind of checking the color, checking the value of the set and more importantly the transmission to see if everything’s ready for broadcast. It kind of made sense to me with where our city is at this point in time. We haven’t been broadcasting much; we’re just now getting back to it. So it just kind of made sense,” Jordan said.
Within the seven panels of color in the broadcast signal are several theatrical characters. Some, like the teal chorus dancers, the magenta drummers and the ballerina, represent performance in general, while others, like the yellow figure of Paul Janeway from St. Paul and the Broken Bones, represent specific celebrities. Tom Waits, BB King and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz are also pictured.
Jordan started out with a tiny grid sketch of his idea for the mural. Since the beginning of June, he has been scaling it to a 90-by-30-foot mural that expands over an uneven wall. According to Stephanie Kruse, if you stand in the middle of the mural and look straight up, things might seem disjointed. But if you stand in the right place on the corner of the sidewalk, the mural aligns. This represents Birmingham “coming into focus,” she said. “Everything’s kind of starting to line up for the city.”
The uneven canvas doesn’t bother Jordan, who seems to enjoy the challenge. He even makes it more of a challenge by refusing to use a projector to help him with the image.
“I’m stubborn or stupid; I’m not sure which,” he said. “I don’t believe in projectors. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with projecting. I only believe in one objective truth in art, and that’s complete subjectivity. For me, I’d rather sketch it out and have tons of errors in my work.”
Even so, Jordan has taken some precautions. He has a group of spotters who stand on the ground and help him fix any proportional mistakes. He says the ballerina, who has a column going straight through her head and shoulder, has given him the most trouble with proportions. Ultimately, Jordan wants the theater mural to make people happy. “That’s what we’re trying to do is put a splash of colors on these walls,” he said. “Give you something to look at, something to make you happy.”
Kruse, Kruse and McCollum founded BSMP after they completed a pop-art style mural of Vulcan in the late fall of 2015.
“It [BSMP] developed from the Vulcan Mural Project,” Stephanie Kruse said. “We wanted to give it a name. We wanted to give it a goal, more of a direction basically. So we came up with Blank Space Mural Project.”
Stephanie Kruse designed the Vulcan Mural Project herself, and the mural became widely known through the use of their hashtag #vulcanmuralproject. The Vulcan Mural Project, 18 by 33 feet, is right down the wall from the theater mural.
“We just wanted to do something bright and colorful in that little corner back there, and Vulcan just seemed like a good, iconic image to use for that,” Stephanie Kruse said.
After receiving positive feedback from the community regarding the Vulcan Mural Project, BSMP decided to continue doing similar work. They began a crowdfunding campaign on generosity.com where they have raised $3,937 and created a video explaining their vision:
We at Blank Space Mural Project want to reclaim public space for you, the public. We want to invite you to think about where we as a city have been, and dream of where we are going. We want you to remember why you love Birmingham, why you chose to invest here, and why you make this place your home. We believe we can achieve these things through the power of public art. It is our goal to create a mural project that inspires you to not just live in the magic of our city, but to BE the Magic.
As Birmingham continues to grow and change, Jordan and BSMP want to reflect the positive aspects of Birmingham. “Art is so subjective that sometimes public art can get to that edgy point, but I think we’ve got enough,” Jordan said. “We’ve pulled away our scabs enough in this city that I think things should stay positive. Rather than murals being about what’s wrong, we need to focus on what’s right.”
Jordan, who grew up in Birmingham, has watched the colorful signs of Birmingham’s past turn into what he calls “ghost signs” as the colors have faded away. The BSMP murals not only tell the story of Birmingham, but they also add life to the gray-washed walls of the city.
“[Public art] is vibrant, and that is something a lot of times that is associated with life and excitement and things going on down here,” Stephanie Kruse said.
Public art has become a prominent feature of cities throughout the United States. People flock to take photographs with the “I believe in Nashville” sign in Tennessee or the Hope Outdoor Gallery graffiti park in Austin, Texas. Here in Birmingham, passerby pose next to “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” before posting their photos on social media.
BSMP sees the importance of public art reaching beyond an Instagram post. Stephanie Kruse said public art “invites people to linger downtown,” rather than just passing through. She points out that there’s a lot of activity in the theater district, and the mural will give people a reason to stop and enjoy the area instead of rushing home from their concert or show.
Jordan also noted the importance of public art in Birmingham. “[Public art] belongs to everybody. We live in a society so based on monetary worth and value, and it’s like this [mural] isn’t something one person can leave in the corner of their house. This is something that everybody gets to appreciate and take something from,” he said.
The theater mural should be complete in the next week, according to Jordan. In the future, BSMP wants to continue to add color to the city’s backdrop, but for now the project will be on pause while Stephanie and Kyle Kruse are living abroad for a year.
“While we’re not sure what Blank Space Mural Project looks like in the future, we have already seen what we had hoped to accomplish. Our goal was to get people excited about public art in downtown Birmingham and to inspire others to take a part in the revitalization of our city,” Stephanie Kruse said. “The fact that we have had such an encouraging response from the community, as well as multiple calls about possible future art projects, tells us we are accomplishing that goal. That’s what we wanted!
“Even though we have to put it on hold for the year we are living overseas, we hope this spurs more interest and more action towards creating a more colorful Birmingham. There are many, many talented artists in this city, and we hope to see more projects like this upon our return,” she said.
Jordan, on the other hand, will be right here. When asked how he felt about painting murals, Jordan said, “I want more. I want bigger. I want 30 feet wide by 90 feet high next time!”