5×5: Artist Katie Merz creates own language in Momentary mural

5×5: Artist Katie Merz creates own language in Momentary mural

They call it “public art,” and Bentonville is full of it, thanks to the efforts of organizations such as OZ Art NWA, which “elevates the regional arts scene by amplifying the work of local arts organizations and sharing a growing collection on view in surprising public places,” according to its website.

Brooklyn-based artist Katie Merz has been creating the latest addition to that alternative arts scene, painting a mural on the east side exterior of the Momentary near the Quonset Hut, where Merz was previously commissioned to create custom benches that were installed earlier this year.

Merz answered these questions for The Free Weekly between her hours on a scaffold.

Q. How/where/when did you fall in love with making art?

A. When I was a kid I was very shy and could not figure out how to communicate with other people. We played in the street a lot. Being kinetic and wandering around making stuff up was our way of communicating — but talking to another person eluded me.

At night I would take my parents’ architectural pens and make these detailed drawings of what was in my mind at that moment. They looked like maps to the underworld of my imagination — [and] it was through these I began communicating with myself.

I got to know how or what I imagined and who or what I was. This quiet and mysterious practice made me fall in love with the safety and vastness of creating.

Q. What is the first image you remember drawing?

A. I remember making this strange collage full of jumbled cutouts made from a picture magazine. I remember thinking how strange it was that I could cut out photos from a magazine and rearrange them on a page to have entirely new meanings. I could change the scale and dimension of their existence. Looking back I realize that I was making a surrealist collage! This gave me a fascination with making a new dimension — something not flat on a page.

Q. Talk about your school experience, specifically how did you avoid being redirected into more traditional art forms?

A. I did not want to go to a college … so I took all the college money that my grandpa had saved for us ($1,200) and went to Europe by boat with absolutely no plan.

A long year followed. I found an art school in Italy that I went to for a semester and then ran out of money. I had to go to England to find work so I could finally make it back home.

So I did go eventually to art school a few years later, but I luckily went to a non-traditional art school that focused more on how you think than on what you made. It was like going to a mini Harry Potter art school where I eventually found my fellow friends.

Q. Will your mural be in the same artistic vein as your benches?

A. Same artistic vein but very different surfaces and uses. The benches are more like writings — and the surface and use of the benches are easier to read.

They are on a horizontal plane, so the drawing becomes more of a writing process. The wall is rough. It is made of four different kinds of brick that are very textured.

It is an old factory building so the surface is not new or slick. I like it — the bricks slow me down a lot — I have to think about my shapes more and make the wall feel more like a puzzle or a game instead of a fast piece of writing.

Q. How did you connect with the people of Bentonville and NWA to inform your mural?

A. I make a little notebook of lists and words where I write down observances and exchanges from my experience being here.

Luckily I am given a bike so I can ride around and be part of the landscape, which is a huge part of being in Northwest Arkansas and Bentonville.

These lists of words tell the story of being here. … I then riff off of those words with the shapes and forms I associate with those words. Then the puzzle comes together — a wall filled with this language of not words but symbols of these words.



See Katie Merz’s new mural on the east side exterior of the Momentary in Bentonville, near the Quonset Hut.

Categories: Galleries