Roads are long, connecting isolated communities in a myriad of ways. This thought struck and captivated artist Steed Taylor when he was on residency in Maine years ago and gave him the idea to lay down public art installations he calls ‘Road Tattoos’.
“I wanted to find a common public space for art and take possession of the roadways,” Taylor says by phone before arriving in West Palm Beach in April. “The first one I ever did was dedicated to a lady that had passed away and that gave me the idea to embed her name into the work and to include the community. That’s why now I paint peoples names into the design but then cover it up so it’s part of it but underneath the surface, like how tattoos get under the skin.”
The piece Taylor is doing in West Palm Beach runs over a mile along the heart of Rosemary Avenue. The painted street mural, coined by the artist as the ‘skin’ of the community, features three elements – a twisty rope of local native flowers, Celtic knots emphasizing the power of community, and music notations for the Jazz standard Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk where the mural winds up—as a nod to the historic Sunset Lounge and its unique history.
The installation will be the longest continuous road tattoo in the world. It engages local artists, organizations, students and community groups who are also painting a portion of the project.
“I’m using students from Dreyfoos School to help research the names we’ll be painting into it,” Taylor says. “I want the piece to honor the eco system and environment, particularly the people who fight to protect those resources in this unique state. Beyond the beaches and fun-in-the-sun ethos, what has always fascinated me about Florida is the abundance of unique waterways, flora, fauna and history not found anywhere else in our country. When I was approached to do a road tattoo in West Palm Beach, I knew this was exactly what I wanted it to be about. I’m excited about the length of it also because a car going 30 mph takes only about 5 seconds so a 200-foot piece won’t be seen very long. This one is lengthy and also in a walking area so the view will be longer. It stretches from a main road through a commercial district and ends at the Sunset Lounge historic district. ”
Taylor explains the deeper meaning of it all saying “Road tattoos explore the expression of loss and longing within public space. Commemorative, site-specific, community-based, tattoo-inspired, public artworks on roads, they repurpose a common, yet much loved and romanticized public space with additional meaning and significance. If roads are the ‘skin’ of a community, they have a similar relationship to the public body as skin does to the private body. As people mark their skin as a means of commemoration, communication and ritual, then a road can be marked for the same reasons. Road tattoos are based on cultural designs previously appropriated to mark skin and are sited in relation to their specific meanings.
Names, or other information, are painted within the design, a nondenominational prayer commissioned for the piece is said and the design is painted in, covering over this information.”
“The emotional connection to art in a city is essential, and with Rosemary Avenue being a major North-South corridor in Downtown West Palm Beach, it serves as the appropriate canvas for this inspirational piece,” said Gopal Rajegowda, Senior VP, Related Companies. “Art has the potential transform a city and its residents, and we believe this collaborative public artwork has the potential to unite our residents to create something ambitious with both meaning and beauty.”
Affectionately titled Genii Loci, Latin for the protective spirits of a place, the Road Tattoo will take Taylor about 6 to 10 days to create. The road will remain closed at night in sections as he works. The consumer grade traffic paint will last about 2 years before eventually wearing away. The tattoo paint is a few inches away from the traffic lines and markers.
Taylor is known for his public artwork as well as his work in galleries. Born near Fayetteville, North Carolina and educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Taylors road tattoos have been inked into cities like Chicago, IL, Washington, D.C., Arlington, VA and New Orleans, LA.
“The road tattoos of Steed Taylor are evanescent commemorative communal and interactive installations distinguished by history and ritual. Personalized markings by individuals bound through specific commonalities, the results are ultimately works heavily invested with emotion, and made more so by being sited as public art works,” said Koan Jeff Baysa, Chinese Biennial 2008 Beijing curator.
“This exciting initiative is one of many that will allow the community to interact with arts and culture in a new way – we feel it’s crucial to the redevelopment and unification of Downtown West Palm Beach,” Rajegowda said.