Artists add color to two Bronx neighborhoods

Artist Martin Papcun used photos and mirrors to bring a sense of Puerto Rico to a private home in Mott Haven.

Photo courtesy of Martin Papcun and CEC Arts Link. Artist Martin Papcun used photos and mirrors to bring a sense of Puerto Rico to a private home in Mott Haven.

Mott Haven home, Hunts Point bridge get makeovers

Two artists whose projects highlight the unique qualities of the South Bronx are hoping their works will help brighten small parts of the area for residents and visitors.

On a Saturday night in September, Brooklyn sculptor Robert Hickman and Czech artist Martin Papcun showed off their recently finished works for Bronx Reflects, the latest in a series of artistic collaborations called One Big City, produced by city-based arts non-profit CEC Arts Link. The project came together during the artists’ three-week residency at The Point CDC in Hunts Point.

Hickman had just finished painting the risers on the stairs to the bridge over Bruckner Blvd. at Bryant Avenue in Hunts Point silver, for a project he called Silvered/Silvered. Papcun’s exhibition, We Carry It On, on Alexander Avenue in Mott Haven, is a tribute to the lush landscapes of Puerto Rico.

Hickman, who teaches at Hunter College, takes bridges very seriously: he has crossed many of the city’s bridges on a unicycle, and blogs about it. He hopes that not only will the Hunts Point structure shine in an area known for its heavy industry, but that the silver stairs will make it more visible, helping residents feel safer when they cross over the busy boulevard.

“We go around the city and we cross things like this. You take these things for granted,” Hickman said.

Bronx resident Vincente Ordaz, who works at an auto body shop on Garrison Avenue near the bridge, said the new silver sheen will help make the area more pleasant to work in.

“Lots of people use the bridge as a bathroom,” Ordaz said. But now, thanks to the brighter color, he explained, people may feel safer. He added that he hopes the positive attention the bridge may now draw could also help curb prostitution and drugs in the neighborhood.

Papcun’s work focuses mostly on the relationships between private and public spaces, which his latest installation illustrates. His interest in geometry and architecture is evident in the four small design books he has published.

The Czech national recently ended a two-month residency in Mott Haven, where he rented a room from a Puerto Rican couple whose photographs of the island landscapes where the couple grew up served as the basis for his project.

Papcun put the photos on the windows of their private house, then placed mirrors in front of the windows to help give his landlords the sensation of being back in Puerto Rico when they look out. Pedestrians see images of Puerto Rican beaches and buildings when they pass the house.

“A window is not just a hole in the wall, but a communication medium between outside and inside, private and public,” Papcun said, adding he worked with the couple to get an understanding of their memories of growing up in the landscapes represented in the photos.

“The pictures are very personal but they also speak to the people here,” he said.

Libertad Guerra, who co-owns the Mott Haven house where Papcun has been living and working, said her tenant’s pieces send a message she is proud to play a part in.

Leonardo Gomez, who works in a bodega across from Guerra’s house, says Papcun’s project has attracted the curiosity of passers-by.

“It brings more people to the business,” he said. “There is culture here. Not like in Manhattan, but there is culture.”

Reynaldo Carney, who owns a couple of houses nearby, is optimistic that projects like We carry it on are an indication that the arts are starting to flourish in Mott Haven.

“It is part of things that never used to be around here,” he said.