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The Dripby Ben Halvorsen2:35 pmMay 10, 20120

Peeling back a first-impression – behind that “torn” Open Walls mural

Above: Torn wallpaper? Viewed close up, this Open Walls mural on Barclay Street appears to be falling down.

If you’ve passed down Barclay Street recently and noticed that some of the new Open Walls Baltimore murals appear to be deteriorating already – they’re not.

That torn-wallpaper effect – with thick strips peeling off and dangling down to the ground – is intentional and, in fact, a trademark technique used by the artists Sten and Lex.

The black-and-white mural in the 1800-block of Barclay by Italian artists Sten & Lex is one of more than 20 created this spring in the Station North Arts District and Barclay neighborhood as part of part of the city-supported Open Walls project.

Ben Stone, the executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment, was ready to explain the idea behind the piece’s striking look.

“Sten & Lex use an unusual process where they’ll cover a wall in printed paper and then spray paint over part of it,” Stone said. “It’s like a giant stencil that eventually comes off.”

Indeed, Sten & Lex’s creation might look like a peeling mess from close-up, but if one takes a step back and looks at the mural as a whole, the horizontal image of man’s face becomes apparent. The shaved-off pieces of the mural add a disturbing allusion to death and decay  or maybe just suggest multiple meanings.

Stencil poster on wood, Co2 Gallery (Rome, Italy, 2010. (Photo: lanciatrendvisions.com)

Lex and Sten stencil poster on wood, Co2 Gallery (Rome, Italy, 2010. (Photo: lanciatrendvisions.com)

Another mural on Barclay, though, only barely resembles the outline of a human head. In that case, the explanation is a little more mundane.

“The artist was having trouble with the surface of that wall, the stucco wasn’t working for him” Stone explained. “So he got permission to move over to a different wall and do it there. We just haven’t had time to take the old one down yet.”

The artist was Chip Thomas of Arizona.

Besides that one little hiccup, Stone says things have been going smoothly for Open Walls. And not just in terms of the murals.

“So far the reaction has been pretty positive. We haven’t done any formal surveys yet, we’re trying to get those done soon, but from the people I’ve talked to on the street or have come to me seem to like it.”

A resident of the neighborhood, who identified herself only as Prevelia, gave the project the thumbs-up.

“I like it,” she said. “It makes the whole neighborhood look cleaner.”


–  Ben Halvorsen, 17, is interning at Baltimore Brew this month.

Lex and Sten's work on Barclay Street, viewed from a distance. (Photo by Ben Halvorsen)

Sten and Lex's mural on Barclay Street, viewed from a distance. (Photo by Ben Halvorsen)

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