Pedestrians walk down Main Street past the mural at 710 Main St. created by Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn of Baltimore.
Photos by John Hickey/Buffalo News

One of the biggest and brightest new murals in Buffalo is quickly taking shape on the north side of 710 Main Theatre.

Baltimore-based artists Katey Truhn and Jessie Unterhalter, known for creating bold murals that often spill from buildings onto streets and sidewalks in cities across North America, have been working on the piece since June 3 with a pair of local assistants. It is the largest mural the pair has created.

“We tried to create some sort of movement with it, so as people walk by or drive by, it dances and changes with them,” Truhn said.

Despite the threat of rain Tuesday, the pair operated twin scissor-lifts on the skinny sidewalk along West Tupper Street. They dipped paint rollers in plastic trays of neon paint and drew them across the primed wall, leaving behind angular blasts of color and long, curved lines.

Before the rain arrived, they had completed about a third of their first layer, which they will embellish, reconfigure and refine over the next two weeks. It is a riotous collection of abstract shapes in bright and incongruous colors, which recalls work of painter Robert Delaunay and the design aesthetics of the early ’90s – proto-Cubism meets “Saved by the Bell” meets Buffalo’s Theatre District.

Truhn and Unterhalter, dressed in paint-spattered jeans, hoodies and colorful sunglasses, took a short break to talk to a reporter as drivers heading toward the Kensington Expressway slowed to a crawl to get a look at the jarring new piece.

“Basically, we just try to create positive energy in any environment that we’re transforming,” Truhn said.

Unlike many murals, she added, the pair’s work is “usually not telling a story, but just sort of a musical, exciting energy.”

Each of their projects, Unterhalter said, is inspired by the building it adorns.

“We’re really inspired by architecture, and that’s the way that we start off designing. We have a language of shapes that we use, and then we kind of plug those into the architectural elements,” Unterhalter said. Truhn added that the 710 Main facade features a slight increase in height toward the middle, an element that inspired their design.

The project represents an increasing desire to include public art in neighborhoods that are undergoing revitalization, according to Aaron Ott, the Albright-Knox public art curator who commissioned the project. That includes the Theatre District, where Shea’s Performing Arts Center recently announced a collaboration between the Shaw Festival and 710 Main Theatre and where Ellicott Development is planning a major development.

“There’s this recognition that there’s a lot of economic development going on all of a sudden,” Ott said. “A lot of people are feeling if they don’t match it with cultural development, that economic development is going to feel stale. This kind of element is emblematic of why you want to come to a space or why you want to stay in a space.”

Ott noted that murals are in high demand in neighborhoods throughout Buffalo. Several more are planned, including upcoming projects on the building that houses the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology and a building near the Trimain Center.

“Murals have been the one thing that no matter where we go, people ask for. If I’m in Tonawanda, if I’m in Orchard Park, if I’m in the East Side or here in downtown, everybody’s like, ‘Can you give us a mural?’ ” Ott said. “It clearly was a form that civically, almost regionally, was being asked for.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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