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Telegraph Avenue mural captures spirit of street, city

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MARCH 07, 2016

The intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way was once home to Shakespeare & Co., the iconic bookstore that closed down last summer after 51 years of business. Until recently, the former storefront had been a charmless site of blank construction barriers blocking off the ongoing renovation of the building. Over the past week, the temporary barriers have been smartened up by a playful mural, adding some whimsy to the already colorful walk down Telegraph.

The piece is called “Wired,” by Berkeley-based artist, Nigel Sussman. Sussman specializes in murals and isometric illustrations, constantly polishing his artistic talents, which he discovered early on in his childhood.

The title “Wired” is a street-sourced name suggested to Sussman by local photojournalist Ted Friedman, whom he met while working on the mural. The double entendre of the title mirrors the duality of the work. The mural depicts a literal telegraph, with the receiver on one end and the transmitter on the other. Each of the objects between the receiver and transmitter are what Sussman feels best captures the vibe of the different aspects of liveliness on Telegraph Avenue. According to Sussman, the Oski icon is a tribute to the university, the flower alludes to nature and environmental consciousness, and the skateboard is meant to connote an aspect of street culture.

“It’s not a real specific message, it’s more of a vibe thing,” Sussman said. ”I spent a fair amount of time on Telegraph Avenue. It’s changed a bit since I first moved here, but it’s still got the same vibe.”

The mural also pays homage to the site’s original gem. “The book is mostly a nod to the bookstore that used to be here,” he explained.

In 2004, Sussman transferred to the California College of the Arts and Crafts from Carnegie Mellon University, driving from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to join the Bay Area art scene. Since then, he has earned a degree in illustration from CCAC.  He spent the past decade practicing his craft in different areas of the Bay, moving from Oakland to San Francisco and now Berkeley.

The project was commissioned by the Telegraph Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization focused on beautifying Telegraph Avenue and creating positive change in the community. Sussman found the ad for the project while randomly searching through Craigslist, and he responded within an hour of its posting. A week later, he started painting.

“Wired” will only be on display for the next four or five months, until the renovation of the building behind it is complete. Local artists like Sussman often lend their craft to site mitigation projects, where the piece, though temporary, creates a meaningful and lasting experience for both the audience and the artist.

“There’s kind of a zen thing about it, like a sand mandala where you put all this energy in, and it’s not about preserving this thing, it’s about the exercise and the process,” he said. For Sussman, the goal is making the people who do get to see it happy, and if his art makes people happy, then his work is done.

“Nothing’s permanent anyway,” Sussman said. “(The mural) has a short life — short but happy, hopefully.”

The temporality of the mural doesn’t take away from the its impact on the visual environment of the local community. Its presence creates a unique experience for its audience — anyone who just happens to walk by. Street art allows a work to be seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives, creating a spontaneous opportunity for individuals to engage with art and become inspired.

“Bringing art out of a gallery and onto the street is a way for people to interact with it more casually and more spontaneously,” Sussman said. “I like that everyone gets to engage with it, even if they don’t plan for it.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to local photojournalist Ted Friedman as Michael Friedman.
Contact Rayanne Piaña at [email protected].

MARCH 10, 2016