While walking or driving through downtown New Paltz this past week, particularly at night, you may have noticed High Falls artist Eugene Stetz, 26, on a lift or ladder painting the beginnings of what is going to be a giant mural on the side of the building directly across from Bacchus Restaurant at 48 Main Street.
The idea for a mural came to Linda Bradford, co-owner of Bacchus, from a longtime customer who wished that he could see the Shawangunk Ridge instead of a blank façade when looking out the windows of her restaurant. Bradford contacted the Wired Gallery and several other artists seeking proposals.
“We originally thought of doing the Shawangunk view that would be there if the building wasn’t,” said Bradford. “But there are many windows on that three-story façade. Eugene’s proposal pushed the idea further, and we’re very pleased with his vision. It is not only highly creative, but also practical.”
Bradford commissioned the young artist, who began implementing his vision on the wall a week ago, underwritten by Bacchus and made possible by the Wired Gallery.
“When Linda contacted me seeking proposals for her mural project,” says Wired Gallery director Sevan Melikyan, “I knew Eugene was the perfect fit! He’s got this young, cool, fearless energy that comes with daring creativity. You can bet on him. And I’ve shown his work before. He’s got a bright future as an artist ahead of him.”
The project calls for ten gallons of primer paint just to buff the wall, and over 60 cans of spray paint and eight quarts of acrylic paints, as well as a forklift.
While interviewing Stetz, the New Paltz Times observed the constant barrage of people passing by or leaving Bacchus who stop to chat with the artist or take pictures of the ever-evolving mural.
“It’s the most challenging mural I’ve ever painted,” admitted Stetz, in terms of the odd layout of the building, protruding windows, chimney, additions, fire ladder, windows, wires and a less-than-even sidewalk holding them up in their forklift. “We have to balance a weight on the lift because the sidewalk isn’t the best, and then we have to get up on a ladder and lean over to get to certain spots. I’m used to flat walls, so this comes with a lot of quirks. But I love the location, the people on the street, the late-night drunks shouting out funny things and offering me a beer!”
In fact, Stetz has had the cops called on him four times in less than a few days. “People report that someone is doing graffiti downtown,” he said with a laugh, “as if this was a conspicuous way of doing graffiti — in the middle of the day, on a forklift?”
There have been kind people who drop him off lunch, little kids that he lets use the spray-paint can and, most touching to him, the parents and family of Armando Rodriguez-Veve, who died only a few weeks ago. Stetz wanted to do something as a memorial for his friend who died in the Shawangunk mountains, so he painted “RIP” and his friend’s name on the top right-hand corner of the building. “His parents came by and thanked me, told me how much it meant to them. His grandmother came by and has even brought me lunch. Everyday I meet friends and acquaintances of his. You hope that art will touch people emotionally, and if this helps people with the grieving process, then I’ve done something important.” Eventually the “RIP” portion will be smaller and included seamlessly into the mural, said Stetz.
The mural design has large, almost surreallike flowers and fauna at street level, which leads up to the iconic view of the Shawangunk Ridge with the Sky Top tower. On either end of the building he will paint cliffs so that people view the mountain range as if through a large gap.
“Sam [Van Kleeck] just started a few days ago, and he’s great with the details of the landscape and foreground to the mountain. I’m much more of a surreal/abstract painter.” Van Kleeck used mostly local flora and fauna for the street-level paintings, “but pushed it to the edge, making them so big and bright and wild.”
The rain has been challenging, but Stetz said that it “gives me time to go inside [Bacchus] and really look at what I’ve done, look at the details and work to make it better.” Even with the on-again, off-again rain, Stetz has been putting in 12-to-14-hour days painting. “I like to work until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. because it’s cool. That [street] light goes on, and it illuminates the wall perfectly! I also like the energy of the late-night scene. I got the biggest kick out of a 48-year-old Scottish father who moved to the States recently and is a tree-climber for the DEC. He’s living out of his van, wanted me to paint his van to look like a tree, and spent hours talking with me while I painted one night. He would go in, get a beer and some shots and come back out and keep telling stories.”
For someone who has painted murals all over the place, Stetz is happy to be doing it in his own backyard. “It’s great to have my family and friends pass by and see what I do! I love this town and think it’s a great place for a mural, because it doesn’t distract drivers since it’s at a stoplight and people can actually sit down and enjoy it.”
There will be an artist’s reception at Bacchus on Friday, July 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. to “bring the community together and welcome this new public art, which will be seen by thousands every day,” said Bradford. The reception will include free finger food, a cash bar and music by Ramona Lane, a band composed of the artist’s friends who will start the evening acoustically before going electric after 10 p.m. There will also be an exhibit of Eugene’s smaller works inside the restaurant.
The painting of the mural is recorded from start to completion with a stationary camera left on stop-motion mode, taking pictures of the progress every five minutes. The pictures will be cut into a video to document the making of the project and posted online. Progress can be seen in the blog section of the artist’s website, www.stetzism.com, or on Instagram @stetzism, as well as on Bacchus Restaurant’s Facebook page.