Anyone who has walked up the staircases of Brown’s List Art Building in the past decade might expect to find the walls covered in graffiti and paintings by students. But earlier this year, the walls were painted over in white — giving new students a blank canvas to work with as the process of covering the barren walls begins again.
And students have already started to make their mark.
One of the walls features a new painting of a girl blowing on a dandelion with her hair waving in the wind. An amalgamation of purple, green and yellow abstract faces covers another wall from top to bottom. A multi-colored eye disguises the sign that denotes the third floor.
List’s stairwells have been replete with students’ artistic contributions for at least 15 years, according to Daniel Stupar, adjunct lecturer in visual art and studio and exhibitions manager. The artwork piled up until Stupar made the call to paint over it with a single coat of white paint because “no one was adding new work to it,” he said. “Everyone thought it was just too precious.”
Stupar hoped to provide a blank space so a new generation of Brown students could leave their mark. He anticipates that in 10 or 15 years, they will paint over the walls once again so the same process can continue.
Jaden Schoenfeld ’23, who was tasked with painting all the stairwell’s walls white, recalled that the work “was fun but also tiring, especially the highest and hardest to reach points.” Schoenfeld added that the walls “are looking pretty good right now since people have started painting over them again.”
As soon as the semester began, Stupar and the rest of the Department of Visual Art encouraged their students to redecorate the stairwells. At first, only the members of the Visual Art Departmental Undergraduate Group contributed to the project, Stupar said. But soon, students started spending their afternoons listening to music, talking about art and painting the walls of the stairwell.
Their artwork ranges from images of flowers to motivational messages such as “Run faster. Jump higher.” Some students even let the structure of the stairwell inspire their work, painting over exposed pipes or letting their painting extend onto the floor to create a three-dimensional depiction of a toilet bowl.
Harshini Venkatachalam ’23, a Herald illustrator, painted a picture of “Untitled (Lamp/Bear),” the recently removed campus sculpture known by students as Blueno, because it is “a recognizable figure for Brown students, especially seniors,” she explained. She also painted a picture of a cat with a fish in its mouth, she said.
Venkatachalam said she likes that “the paintings on the wall are just for fun and a cute way to communicate and share something with other Brown students.”
Stupar also gave his students class time to contribute to the stairwell. Nick Sanzi ’24 used this time to immortalize an obscure part of Rhode Island history, painting a portrait of Rhode Island politician Robert Healey. Sanzi chose Healey, who founded the Rhode Island third party the Cool Moose Party, because “he was a fascinating chapter of Rhode Island history,” he explained.
The stairwell is not nearly as full as it once was, and students are continuing to fill the blank spaces. While the decision to paint over the old art “ruffled a few feathers,” according to Stupar, it has also renewed “a certain democratic feel … that anyone can participate.”