Irish artists arrive in Fort Smith to preview September murals project

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 292 views 

Providing a preview for the September murals event in downtown Fort Smith is the reason why internationally acclaimed Irish artists Maser and Conor Harrington are in Fort Smith after finishing up high-profile art events in Sydney, Hawaii and New York City.

Maser, the artist who painted the mural of General Darby in downtown Fort Smith and is now based in Fayetteville, and Harrington are working on a large mural on the backside of retail space in the Quarry Shopping Center in Fort Smith. The mural covers a wall that is the entrance to Boardertown Skate Shop.

Maser had an active role in New Year’s celebrations in Sydney, with his art being a focal point for activities near the famed Sydney Opera House. He was also part of the “Pow Wow Hawaii” art celebration that seeks the participation of cutting-edge artists.

“To get invited, you’re in the circle of leading artists,” Maser said. “It’s a notch in your belt to get invited.”

In addition to being a new father, Harrington recently wrapped up a New York City art show. His work fetches top dollars and can be found in the homes of famous musicians. It’s not unusual to find his work on the sale block at Sotheby’s.

“Harrington began his career as a street artist whose large-scale paintings grace walls around the world, from Bristol to Bethlehem,” noted a recent Sotheby’s review of his work.

Steve Clark, owner of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics, brought the two artists to Fort Smith not only as a preview for the upcoming murals festival but because he believes art can be an economic development tool.

“The reason I’m into this is because this is the city I want to live in,” Clark said, with a finger pointing to the two artists working on the mural. “This is definitely a preview for what we hope to bring to Fort Smith, and what that is is that art plays a role in the revival of cities across America.”

The murals festival is set for Sept. 6-13, with several events – to include artist reception at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, emerging artists show, spoken word event, wine tasting, skateboard park, and sidewalk art collaborations between artists and area school students – to coincide with large murals painted or applied to between five and 10 downtown buildings.

John McIntosh, who has helped launch several events and event venues in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith, is leading the murals project for a newly formed group “64.6 Downtown.” In addition to McIntosh, the murals project team is Claire Kolberg, festival coordinator; Don Lee, head of the art department at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; Galen Hunter with Fort Smith-based MAHG Architects; and Jim Perry, a corporate marketing executive with Fort Smith-based ArcBest.

Maser told The City Wire that this is his second collaborative project with Harrington. He said the work is a “fusion of two styles” and is a “painting about relationships and trust.”

“This is also a lot about movement and body forms,” Maser said.

It is Harrington’s first time in Arkansas. He paused Thursday to step back and take a photo with his smart phone of the initial mural work. He joked that the photo was to prove to his wife he was really in Fort Smith and working on a mural project.

Harrington, who lives in London, was quick to mention the recent New York City art show when asked about his career highlight. He spent 13 months to provide 15 paintings for his well-received “Eat And Delete” exhibition.

“The distinctive showcase presents a comprehensive embodiment of Harrington's signature style to date, blending street art motifs with rich hyper-realist techniques reminiscent of Renaissance-era old master painting,” noted a Lazarides preview.

As Maser and Harrington dropped up and down on the lifts used to paint the mural, Clark turned to the reporter with an emphatic statement.

“This isn’t to be confused with graffiti. This is a big canvas … and it’s inspirational. These artists, these mural artists are the fastest growing in terms of popularity.”

The two artists plan to complete the mural by Saturday.

Maser, who painted a large mural on a building at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale, is looking forward to a project with The Underground in Fayetteville.

“I really want to be more a part of that art community there,” he said.