By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Art is blossoming in Downtown Brooklyn’s once forgotten alley, Grove Place.
Street artists See One and Don Rimx descended last weekend on the block-long dead-end byway near the Fulton Mall and created a massive mural of cartoon creatures grooving in a musical jam session – including one with sunglasses and braids that’s an homage to Stevie Wonder.
The artists’ marathon Saturday and Sunday spray-painting sessions were completely kosher. The two men were there at the invitation of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, has which launched a campaign to clean up the gritty alley and convince the landlords who jointly own it to turn it into a tiny commercial corridor.
“When I saw the alley I was salivating,” said Rasu Jilani, 35, the curator who worked with the artists to produce the 80-foot long, 15-foot high mural.
“You don’t get space like this – ever.”
The eye-popping mural, intended as a permanent artwork for the alley, is also a promotional tool for the Beat Festival, a September performing-arts fest with numerous Downtown Brooklyn venues.
Festival head Stephen Shelley didn’t know of the alley’s existence when he asked the Downtown Partnership if the business advocacy group could find a spot for a mural, said Vivian Liao, the Partnership’s director of marketing and strategic partnerships. Her colleague, Katie Lyon, suggested the alley.
Last fall Lyon, the services manager of the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn Business Improvement District, came up with the idea of turning the alley into a hip place for tiny storefronts with room for cutting-edge tenants upstairs.
The festival paid the artists a commission for their work, with the Partnership contributing to the sum. The Partnership began its public promotion of Grove Alley on June 28 with a free al fresco concert that drew 1,103 people.
The two mural painters did a 10-hour painting stint Saturday – with rain falling part of the time – and returned Sunday under sunny skies to put the finishing touches on their work. It’s kid-friendly, as befits its location on the back of a Livingston Street building in which the Hanover Place Learning Center operates.
One of the cartoon characters on the wall, a creature named Miru, is the creation of See One, 32, an artist from Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“He’s a small blue dragon with assorted dragon friends,” said the artist – who painted a word bubble next to the Stevie Wonder look-alike cartoon character with the famous singer’s lyrics: “Isn’t she lovely; isn’t she wonderful?”
The artist had often ridden his bike past the alley on the way to the gym, and thought Grove Place looked inhospitable, to put it mildly.
“It was pretty crappy – I felt like I might die if I went past here,” he said, standing about 50 feet from the alley’s Hanover Place entrance.
Bringing art to the long-neglected street “feels amazing – a little awesome,” he said.
His collaborator Don Rimx, whose real name is Edwin David Sepulveda, 32, works as a tattoo artist on Fulton Mall. He noticed the alley whenever he went to pick up lunch at a café on Hanover Place.
“I thought the alley was for parking cars,” the Crown Heights resident said. “Our mural gives new life to the alley.”
Some images in the mural are meant as tributes to the nearby Fulton Mall – such as a turntable with a cartoon-figure DJ in honor of a record store that was on Fulton Mall for many years, Jilani said.
He lined up other artists to paint smaller works on other buildings. Ambika Lewis put a giant purple heart with the slogan “We are on earth to create art” on the back of the building where the alley dead-ends on Nevins Street. Danielle Mastrion painted a blue mural of a sultry chanteuse on the back of a building on the Fulton Street side of the alley.
Some graffiti in the edgy-but-chic alley was removed as part of the art project.
A videographer, Alex Seel, shot footage of the painters at work that he’s turning into a time-lapse piece to use as a promo for the Beat Festival.
The mural was another step forward in getting the alley into shape for use as a commercial corridor. One landlord, JW Mays, has already gotten on board.
George Silva, a Mays vice president, had a glass storefront installed on the alley side of 297 Livingston St. after hearing the Partnership’s vision for Grove Place. Silva, who is on the board of the Fulton Mall Improvement Association, is now looking for a tenant for the alley-side retail space.
“He sees this as a long-term opportunity,” Liao said.
Meanwhile, the Partnership is hosting another event to bring the public to the alley.
Grove Alley Game Nite is set for Aug. 23 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., with vintage video games, bocce ball and DJ music. See www.downtownbrooklyn.com for further info.