In Chattanooga, duo create temporary, public street art with removable murals

In Chattanooga, duo create temporary, public street art with removable murals

December 17th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

The larger of the two murals created by David Ruiz for the Mainx24 took about 12 hours to complete. The paper-and-glue creation will disintegrate from the elements or can be removed with a pressure washer.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

David Ruiz places a piece of a mural on a brick wall coated with a biodegradable wheat paste during the Mainx24 festival. Ruiz, a local muralist, installed a two-part mural on a building visible from the corner of Market and Main streets.

David Ruiz places a piece of a mural...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Names: David Ruiz and Mary Margaret LaVoie.

Ages: 27 and 31.

Occupations: Photographer and wheat paste muralist (Ruiz); illustrator and wheat paste muralist (LaVoie).

Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii (Ruiz); Nashville, Tenn. (LaVoie).



Want an organic adhesive that is easily removable? Here's a simple recipe to cook up wheat paste at home:

1. Boil 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil in a pot.

2. In a separate bowl, mix 3 table-spoons of flour with 10 teaspoons of water until it forms a runny mix.

3. Add the mixture to the boiling water and stir well for two minutes to prevent it from foaming up and overfilling the pan or becoming chunky.

4. Remove pot from heat and add 2 tablespoons of sugar (more for added strength) and allow it to cool.

5. Pour into a container and store for up to a week. Storage can be prolonged by refrigerating the mix.


Some artists pursue the creation of a timeless piece future generations will admire. Fans of local mural collective PPRWRK, however, are lucky if they see the same piece six months later.

About two years ago, photographer David Ruiz and his girlfriend, illustrator Mary Margaret LaVoie began converting their artwork into gigantic paper murals that they paste on downtown buildings.

Partly because of their contracts with the buildings' owners and partly because of their use of water-soluble wheat paste to apply them, the murals appear and disappear quickly, sometimes as quickly as a week after installation.

That impermanence is entirely the point, LaVoie says.

"For a lot of kids who don't necessarily get to go to art galleries or museums, they can walk down the street and see some art pop up and then go away and pop up somewhere else," the 31-year-old says. "I like the surprise element."

Ruiz and LaVoie make the wheat paste in their kitchen. Despite smelling like "just really crappy oatmeal," it offers an adhesive that is weather resistant but which can be cleanly removed with a pressure washer.

Building owners who might balk at approving more permanent artwork usually are amiable to a more temporary approach, they say.

"Sometimes, you don't want to look at something forever," says the 27-year-old Ruiz. "Gaining approval to have a permanent piece up is 10 times harder than what I do because you're stuck with it."

PPRWRK so far has installed about 25 large murals around town, including at the corner of Spears Avenue and Chambliss Street, inside JJ's Bohemia and at Red Bank High School. Ruiz and LaVoie also have installed murals as part of community events, including the 10x10 creative work showcase during this year's HATCH festival and NormalPalooza, which took place in November.

The duo's most recent -- and largest -- project was an installation for Mainx24 that took place Dec. 1 during the all-day celebration in Southside. The event was accompanied by a live performance by Strung Like a Horse and a 13-foot-image of the band's Mark the Fiddler with a raccoon's head was the centerpiece of the artwork.

Ruiz is a longtime photographer and founder of 423 Bragging Rights, a storehouse for event photography, especially of local concerts. As with all photos used in PPRWRK's murals, the pre-raccoon-ized picture used in the Mainx24 install was culled from his archives.

The seed for PPRWRK was planted in 2010, when LaVoie showed Ruiz a Technology, Entertainment and Design video of JR, a French street artist who pasted his photos murals around downtown Paris as a way of offering free art exhibits to the masses.

His pants still stained by the eight gallons of wheat paste used during the Mainx24 install, Ruiz says that, even if PPRWRK isn't following JR's formula to the letter, the video was inspiring.

"I love the idea of making a city a gallery instead of just [displaying it in] a building," he says. "Art should, for the most part, be free."

With the exception of a handful of LaVoie's illustrations, PPRWRK's murals are black and white and stand out in stark contrast to their brick and mortar canvasses.

The process of creating the murals is laborious, beginning with a computer render of the photo or illustration that is printed out, full size, on 11-inch-by-17-inch sheets of paper. These sheets, sometimes hundreds at a time, must be carefully cut out to maintain the piece's borders and arranged in a method that corresponds to the order of the installation.

Ruiz and LaVoie are seeking approval from businesses between Frazier Avenue and Main Street to display murals on their buildings next year as part of a citywide bicycle arts showcase called Tour de Noog.

Ruiz received a $5,000 MakeWork arts grant to fund the project, and the money will be used to purchase two runs of ink, a pressure washer, a ladder and a 36-inch wide printer that should increase efficiency by 60 percent, he says.

With it, the murals will go "from 400 sheets of paper to 30," Ruiz says. "That's outrageous. I can't wait to get it."

The first Tour de Noog installation will last from March through April and will feature murals made from Ruiz's photos of local musicians. A second installation will last from August through September and will use murals of LaVoie's illustrations.

Even knowing that these piece won't last, PPRWRK's artists said the payoff will be seeing the public reacting to art in a place they least expect to find it.

LaVoie, who has been drawing "since [she] could hold a crayon," has always loved making people smile with her pictures of animals. That's the same reaction she has sought through PPRWRK since their first project, a mural of one of her songbird drawings on the side of Chad's Records on Vine Street.

"I want them to smile and see that art can be anywhere," she says. "That's the thing about a city: Everyone has these walls that aren't doing much but holding buildings up. You might as well put some rock stars and some bright colors on it."