Calming and exciting

Bartlett Wright catches the wave; Washington's gothic romance
By GREG COOK  |  June 18, 2013

 0621_Art_waves_top.jpg
A BETTER PLACE Bartlett Wright's work-in-progress.

Amy Bartlett Wright has painted murals of a marsh for the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Reserve Visitors Center in Middletown, of a barrier beach for an exhibit of shorebirds and saltwater fish at New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo, and of Southeast Asian ferns and trees for the python cage at the Staten Island Zoo. But the Portsmouth artist tells me, “This is the largest height outdoor mural that I’ve painted, and I’ve been painting murals for 25 years.”

She’s talking about the four-story-tall crashing waves she’s painting on the wall above Coastway Community Bank’s parking lot at 180 Washington St. in Providence.

If you stand in the right spot, you can see the big blue and green wall of water as well as Shepard Fairey’s Providence Industrial Bilt mural on the side of the Pell Chafee Performance Center and Guillermo Gómez Peña’s To the Lords of Censorship manifesto mural on the back of AS220’s 115 Empire St. building.

Bartlett Wright’s Three Waves for Coastway is a prominent addition to Providence’s mural renaissance that includes Agustin Patino’s works at the Wheeler School and Dialysis Center of Providence; Munir Mohammed’s paintings at Oasis International and Compare Foods Supermarket; and murals that Lydia Stein has helped spark, particularly in South Providence. They follow in the footsteps of the trompe l’oeil murals Johan Bjurman has painted downtown for two decades.

Bartlett Wright’s current project began when Coastway president Bill White got in touch with AS220 artistic director Umberto Crenca, looking for help finding an artist to paint a mural to liven up the blank brick wall and the neighborhood. “I wanted something that had more to do with outdoors, something with nature,” White says.

Bartlett Wright — who studied scientific illustration and whose paintings also appear at the Save the Bay Center in Narragansett, at the Boston Museum of Science, and the Connecticut Audubon Society Center in Pomfret — came to the top of their list.

Nature has long been her preferred subject. “I find it calming and exciting at the same time. I grew up on a farm and spent my time outside. I’ve always lived near the water,” she says. “I really just find such comfort there and there’s an endless amount of material to work on.”

On the recommendation of commercial painters E.F. O’Donnell & Sons, the mortar of the brick wall was repointed last fall to make a more durable painting surface. “Part of that brick façade is formerly an interior of a building from the late 1800s,” she says.

She started painting on May 13, with help from the E.F. O’Donnell & Sons guys, and aims to be done late this week, assuming it’s not too rainy or windy. “But the weather’s not been cooperating,” she says.

“There’s something about the size that I find really appealing,” Bartlett Wright says. “I also love the idea of reaching people in public places. Paint and color can really change the way you perceive a place, perceive a room.”

She aims “to take you someplace that’s better,” she says. “It’s always better to be outside than inside . . . I think the perfect place to be is outside on a nice sunny day.”

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