Feb. 1, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
A vibrant art piece has recently debuted in a tucked away stretch of Long Island City depicting broad societal issues amidst a backdrop that pays homage to the ever-growing neighborhood.
The untitled artwork, made up of multiple large wooden panels and spanning several feet, was installed last week under a Long Island Railroad overpass on Skillman Avenue, just around the corner from the two Hunters Point Avenue stations in the MTA’s system.
The 4-by-8 foot panels were lifted to the middle of the overpass’ southern concrete wall, since covered in a light blue paint, and show scenes like the Queensboro Bridge and trains running past billowing smoke and tall buildings, with people weaving through the imagery.
The project has been in the works since 2018, and is a joint effort by the LIRR, the Long Island City Partnership and Vincent Ballentine, a Brooklyn-based artist who worked with teens at the local YMCA to bring the piece about.
Ballentine said it took about 10 sessions, or a month-and-a-half starting in late October, to brainstorm the design and paint the panels.
“It was kind of a whirlwind,” he said, noting that about 20 teenagers from a youth leadership group at the YMCA were involved in the project.
The artwork, based on LIC Partnership guidelines, had to only be representative of the neighborhood, with Ballentine and the teens putting their own flare on the design by incorporating themes like the environment, mental health, progress and unity. The people depicted in the artwork are also based on the teens themselves.
The arms holding the globe in the middle of the piece, for instance, came about after students took photos of each others arms as reference.
Another image of a young man surrounded by yellow and black pinwheels stemmed from a participant who wanted to describe his experience on the autism spectrum.
The smoke and images of industry tell the tale of Long Island City, but the group of people turning away from the scene signals a move toward greener practices.
Even the blank billboard on the side of a building has a meaning.
“Billboards tell us what to do,” Ballentine recalled the teens saying. “What if we don’t want to be told what to do?”
“They were brilliant with their understanding of symbolism,” he added.
The heavy panels were installed by LIRR workers under the Montauk Cutoff, the long abandoned railroad line currently undergoing a long demolition process.
Ryan Attard, of the LIRR’s office of government and community affairs, said the location for the artwork was selected after the Partnership and agency noticed more foot traffic in the area.
The site today is near several offices and a school, a bustling subway and LIRR station, and sits between the rapidly growing Hunters Point and Court Square neighborhoods.
The artwork, funded by the LIC Partnership as part of an ongoing arts and beautification initiative, is expected to stay until the section of the defunct cutover is up for demolition some time away, Attard said. The panels will be taken down and preserved.