Last year, local artists Mark Maher and James Rachels opened a gallery unlike any that downtown has been home to before. Located in a below-street-level space at 47 Weybosset Street, OverSpray Studios embodies the ethos of cutting-edge, contemporary street art scenes like those found in Los Angeles, Miami and New York City – which many visitors have already compared the modern-feeling underground space to.
“Overspray” is a term frequently used among graffiti artists when working with spray paint, and the gallery’s first show, Organic Illusions, features paintings by both artists as well as colorful geometric woodworking sculptures by James, who works construction on Block Island. Mark also has a full-time job at Hasbro as senior model artist for their Transformers line.
OverSpray Studios’ mural and chalkboard art can be found on the outsides and insides of buildings all over town: at Aurora, the Rosendale, G-Pub, an electrical meter near PVDonuts and at the Brass Monkey, just to name a few. Both artists are from Rhode Island and come from street art backgrounds: a subculture that has been the source of immense controversy in the state for decades.
Despite worldwide regard for artists like Banksy, the words “street art” or “graffiti” often evoke negative connotations for the general public; many associate it with vandalism or flagrant destruction of property. Mark wants OverSpray Studios to become the area’s central destination for mural art, to push the limits of the subculture and to demonstrate that street and graffiti art are also fine art.
“There’s a huge street art and graffiti subculture here in Rhode Island that almost everyone ignores,” says Mark. “We want to bring it out of a negative and into a positive view. Although some of it is vandalism, I personally understand what’s at the root of most of it: a desire for self-expression and creating public art.”
Mark points to cities around the world like London, Prague, San Francisco, Berlin and Toronto as leaders in commissioning large, stunning exterior murals that speak to viewers in compelling and unique ways. Although Providence has embraced some public installations like Mary Beth Meehan’s massive portrait series, most have been temporary rather than permanent. Mark believes that murals enhance the aesthetic environment of a city and deter vandalism by creating art instead. He thinks that Providence possesses the artistic talent and resources to create its own art event equivalent to Miami’s Art Basel. In the meantime, OverSpray Studios plans to participate in Gallery Night and to keep up with strong demand from local businesses and organizations for their side work crafting murals and other artwork.
47 Weybosset Street