Artistic Hope Posters Reimagine Richmond Street Wall

The Wall of Hope, located near the intersection of Grove and Shields Avenues, displays posters that reflect the message of hope. Photo by Jon Mirador

Grace McOmber, Contributing author

Nine colorful posters decorating a small red wall on Grove and Shields Avenues depict images ranging from vibrant, easy-to-read text to abstract works with intricate messages. Despite the diversity of the artworks, they all follow a central theme: hope.

Retired VCUarts graphic design professor and Hope Wall organizer John Malinoski conceptualized the project last summer with two other organizers, former Anderson Gallery director Ashley Kistler and retired graphic design professor Rob Carter. by VCUarts.

The group’s mission is to bring a sense of hope to all who see the wall, especially during political and social unrest in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic, Malinoski said.

“I think it’s just due to mutual interests and resources that we could easily share,” Malinoski said. “We all had this overwhelming interest in hope at that time.”

The trio now enlist other artists from around the world to create posters for the wall, which is owned by Kistler. According to Malinoski, organizers have seen exponential growth in submissions for the wall since the first installment last summer.

“In the beginning, when the wall wasn’t as prevalent, we put up posters, and they went up pretty quickly,” Malinoski said. “Right now, if we have a poster today, it might not be until April.”

The wall is now in its eighth series of posters and has featured works by more than 50 artists. Organizers swap the nine posters every three weeks, Malinoski said. To stick the posters to the wall, Malinoski uses a homemade adhesive made from wheat, flour and sugar boiled in water.

This poster by Dutch artist Jerry-Lee Bosmans states, “The sun will rise again and so will you.” It is one of nine posters currently hanging on the wall. Photo by Jon Mirador

“It’s special in the sense that it’s so simple,” Malinoski said. “And it’s a method that’s been used for many, many years.”

Reactions to the Wall of Hope have been overwhelmingly positive, Malinoski said.

“It allows people to be civic in times of lockdown, so they can go out for a walk and see the wall,” Malinoski said. “And every three weeks they can visit this wall and see something new. I think that’s really important.

Erik Brandt, a Malinoski alumnus and chair of the design department at the Minneapolis College of Art Design, has twice participated in the project. Initially, Brandt’s approach to the project was a darker take on the theme of hope, expressing his thoughts on the 2020 presidential election.

“At that time, it was pre-election,” Brandt said. “So my response to the concept of hope was hopeless.”

Brandt’s first contribution to the wall, titled “Desperatefeatures a heavily edited photograph of former President Donald Trump, who is pictured with green skin, yellow hair and a bright orange tie. A purple hue colors Trump’s eyes, and the purple fangs of a screaming primate overlap his mouth, screaming into a microphone. The poster was part of the first slice of the wall.

“While it has been difficult to feel these emotions because of the pandemic and our continued isolation, there is continued hope for the future.” — Erik Brandt, Hope Wall contributor

The title of the play is written in the center of the disturbing image, with the last two letters resembling Nazi images. Brandt said the typography is meant to signify the harsh nature of the actions and behavior of the former president and his supporters.

Brandt, who grew up in northern Germany, found the use of imagery difficult to include but necessary to convey his message that Trump’s ideology is similar to that of previous fascist political movements.

“It’s a commentary on both the person and the so-called movement, which I find generous and false,” the artist said. “Because it’s basically something we’ve known for many years. Fascism and evil — pure and simple.

In stark contrast to Brandt’s most recent poster, “Hope Less,”Full of hopehas a more positive message. The poster, exhibited during the sixth edition of the wall, features black wing-like shapes that flare out and a single green shape that sits in the upper left corner. Below the abstract image, lowercase black text reads: ‘Hope has no form and it can fill any heart’.

“I think, as simple as the feeling is, that’s what a lot of people feel or yearn for,” Brandt said. “While it has been difficult to feel these emotions because of the pandemic and our continued isolation, there is continued hope for the future.”

For Brandt and Malinoski, the Wall of Hope is an extension of the use of posters as a means of expression. Historically, posters have been a cheap and effective way to communicate on a number of topics, from simple advertising to protest movements.

“These are projections of the culture – this is where the symphony will play, this is where this event will happen, this is where this gathering of people will be,” Brandt said. “The poster is something on a human scale. It is for pedestrians who walk in the city and are thus together. This is something we would like to see more of in our world.

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