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Color-Filled Collaborations: Jaz Erenberg

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If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one or two while strolling through Baltimore’s brick-lined  streets. A flash of color, a burst of movement. The bright tapestries stand out from afar, rainbows wrapped around unassuming buildings. Perhaps you’ve already seen them, peered up at a fortuitous moment and found your eyes frozen, wandering up and down,  left and right, circling the intricate marks and luscious hues.  

Standing in front of Jaz Erenberg’s vibrant murals feels like inhaling pure color. It’s exhilarating, akin to finding money on the ground or watching sun dance through  rain-drenched leaves. Erenberg’s paintings are impressive in skill and scale. They’re entities that both animate their urban surroundings and seem to breathe themselves. Bold additions to Baltimore’s neighborhoods, these candy-colored artworks, and their creator, harbor a surprising history.  

Erenberg’s connection to mural painting is nuanced, a relationship that emerged gradually along a zigzagging trajectory. After beginning her undergraduate studies at a university in Israel, Erenberg (motivated by her recent marriage and desire to be near  her stepson) transferred to MICA to complete her BFA. Initially a sculpture major, the  artist realized during her third year that she didn’t want to “make art for a White Box audience.”

While Erenberg acknowledges there’s nothing inherently wrong with this niche, she discovered early in her career that direct interactions with peopleparticularly local communitiesnourished her more than creating in an isolated studio. A course on the history of Baltimore monuments later sparked Erenberg’s curiosity about public art. It was a discipline that she recalls, “I didn’t necessarily understand,” but one that was enticing because of its hands-on, social nature. 

 

Porrtals & Passageways, Station North Arts District
Jaz Erenberg and Portals & Passageways, Station North Arts District

Following her graduation from MICA, still fighting the feeling that “things were missing” from her artistic practice, Erenberg dove into a residency in Highlandtown. It was here, immersed in new spaces and artistic methods (i.e., painting), that the artist produced her first mural.

“I’m the person that will say yes [to opportunities] and figure it out later, so that’s how the mural went,” she recalls. Painting had been Erenberg’s least favorite medium in art school. Nevertheless, the residency catalyzed her interest in murals and launched what has become a widespread career in public and community art. 

Erenberg’s aesthetically pleasing paintings have roots that extend beyond their final, visible form. “Mural painting is a lot of community organizing,” the artist emphasizes, “it’s a lot more “people work” [in addition to] the perceived act of painting a wall.” It’s precisely this social component that compels Erenberg to paint a wall: “I enjoy being in discussion with communities about what they want to see added to their neighborhood,” she offers passionately. Though not all Erenberg’s projects get this intimate, the artist’s favorite murals to work on are those that involve direct partnerships between herself and the community where the piece will eventually reside. 

At its core, Erenberg’s practice is sustained by a passion for collaboration. In fact, the artist describes her murals as “collaborative pieces” themselves. Whether that  collaboration emerges between “the local community, the community of artists [she’s] brought on to complete a project, or a community of partnerships,” teamwork fuels Erenberg’s creative motivation.

The artist further believes that the inherently communal nature of mural painting is foundational to all public art. Public artworks, she explains, are “really hard to do on your own;” they’re reliant on both long- and short-term relationships. Luckily for Baltimore’s communities, those relationships are precisely what  keep Erenberg painting. 

SUBJECT: Jaz Erenberg, 33 
PLACE: Baltimore, MD 
WEBSITE: www.jazerenberg.com 
INSTAGRAM: @jaz_erenberg 

Isa Gold: You have lived in a range of cities and countries since you were young.  How have travel and those spaces influenced your perspective(s) on art,  community, and the art world?  

I moved so much growing up that I was always the new kid, so I relied heavily on my  observation skills to try my best to fit in. Though constantly trying to fit in was  emotionally and mentally exhausting, it has allowed me the space to be acutely  sensitive when working in new communities. I also think that living in many different  kinds of communities has taught me what really connects people. 

What do you believe is art’s role and function in local and global communities?  

I’ll answer through the lens of public art specifically. I think public artists have a unique  responsibility to be aware of how their work will affect the community in which it  resides. In my opinion, community-centered public art projects are the most  sustainable and impactful. Public art should be used to make communities feel seen and heard. 

 

If you could build your own museum, what would you create?  

The Museum of Color, where you can learn everything about every color. Featuring  both colors we see and colors we use. From why, how, and where paint pigments were  invented, what natural materials they were initially made out of, how it is made today,  and or why it’s not made anymore. You would also be able to explore the science  behind how we see color and interactive exhibits where you can mix colors visually and experience them on different spectrums.

What do you want people to know about your murals and their connection to  Baltimore communities?  

Baltimore is unique in that it is a city of neighborhoods, they are all so different, but  there is so much empty social space that exists between them. I see my work as a  bridge connecting each community to the next. That is why you see a lot of the same  motifs in my work around the city. 

How did your experience teaching in a Baltimore City public school impact your understanding of the intersection of art and community?  

Teaching in Baltimore informed my community organizing practices in so many ways.  One of the first things I was told as a teacher was to meet your students where they  are. This has taken shape in my practice of using door-knocking as a tool to meet  residents where they are when developing community projects. 

 

Where do you go when you need to clear your head? Do you have a favorite spot in Baltimore?  

I go to the water. I grew up sailing, the water has always had a calming effect on me. 

Do you listen to anything while painting your murals? What is it like to create your art in public spaces, with people walking by?

I listen to music and podcasts when painting in a lift, if I am working on the street level, I like to be approachable, and I enjoy talking to people walking by. Murals in Baltimore  are pretty common, but being able to see a mural being painted is like a whole other  level of magic for people passing by. 

You mentioned your relationship to salad. What is a comfort meal for you, and why are plants and produce common motifs in your art?  

Plants have always been a huge part of my life, it was important to my parents that we  grew up with an appreciation for plants, no matter how small a house we lived in we  always had an herb garden. My grandparents had orchards and luscious gardens on  their land, my grandmother grew every color of rose she could find. Some of my first  memories are of running around in their gardens trying to get lost in it all.

 

Images of artwork courtesy of the artist, portraits by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt Issue 16: Collaboration

This story is from Issue 16: Collaboration, available here.

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