Public art is by nature both impermanent and timeless—a juxtaposition that has the power to intrigue and inspire. As we feature BIG NAZO and PFunk, two well-known Rhode Island artists, we reflect on the role public art can play in our lives: connecting us to our community, causing us to question our place in the world, and becoming a backdrop for our lives. All of us at The Avenue Concept are grateful to the artists of INFLUX for sharing their vision and their spirit with our city—Providence is better because of it.
Artist Profile: BIG NAZO and PFunk
Headquartered in downtown Providence, BIG NAZO is one of Rhode Island’s most internationally renowned artistic organizations. Its founder and artistic designer is Erminio Pinque who explains, “BIG NAZO evolved out of an interest in making wearable sculpture—art that was also a costume.”
What Erminio describes as “the pure, naïve joy of just suiting up with other people and walking into the world causing excitement or confusion…” evolved into an actual street theater group that has performed at festivals all over the world. Also taking its educational mission to heart, BIG NAZO runs a “creature class” in conjunction with RISD’s Film and Video Department during the winter semester.
Paul Morse, a.k.a. PFunk, is a Providence street artist who has been creating his larger-than-life stylized characters since the 1980s. After having his first child, he stopped painting for a number of years and just got back into it seven or eight years ago, which he describes as “a trip.” But now he finds painting to be the best form of relaxation around.
INFLUX project: Graffiti Mural Trolls
In the same way that BIG NAZO can attract attention at an event, a street mural can take over a wall of a building and suddenly transform it into a whimsical other world. For The Avenue Concept’s INFLUX event last year, BIG NAZO and PFunk teamed up to bring the “Graffiti Mural Trolls” project to life.
The project involved a mural of five PFunk characters, the last one being a creature modeled after BIG NAZO’s puppet. Next, PFunk painted the 3D puppet so that both artists inspired aspects of each other’s work and both were integrated into the final project in September 2015 with the finished BIG NAZO characters standing in front of the mural and being part of the mural as moving elements. “Although INFLUX is many things, there’s a strong connection to the idea of street art and activation of communal, urban space,” explains Erminio.
Collaborations bring new creations
The collaboration presented new challenges for PFunk who is accustomed to painting flat surfaces: “Painting the troll was tricky, but it was fun… I just went crazy with this bunch of colors!” Both artists discussed being aware of their environment within the school community. “There’s going to be little kids, so you try to keep it family friendly,” says PFunk.
PFunk’s signature style features characters with an accentuated eyebrow and chin, and sometimes other features, too. “I kind of like working freestyle, meaning that I’ll look at the wall, look around, and something with just strike me. Then I start sketching and the image emerges,” he explains. Erminio noted that certain features of PFunk’s characters such as the big chins make it more challenging to translate to a foam rubber puppet.
This project was also the first time The Avenue Concept and BIG NAZO collaborated. “It seems like we have a very complementary vision,” Erminio notes. “I have been pushing the idea of a the interactive creature mural and always wanted to see it happen—and now it’s just so exciting to see it work and see how people react to it.”
He adds, “I think that the role of public art is that you create a memory that takes place in the space of that public art. It becomes a background symbol reminder, like a hard drive that says the space is reminding me of what I’ve lived. For kids that go to those high schools, I can’t imagine how cool that is to have this mix of the figurative and the abstract that will become part of their life memories. It’s everybody’s personal art.”