By Kakie Urch
On La Brea in Los Angeles, it’s Albert Einstein.
Hovering mid-air off the Highline in New York City’s Chelsea, it’s “V.J. Day in Times Square,” the iconic photograph of a sailor returned from WWI kissing a nurse in a deep dip.
And on Paulista, the most important boulevard In Sao Paulo, Brazil, it’s 183 skyscraping feet of Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian modern architect who died at 104.
Now on Vine Street in Lexington, Kentucky it’s Abraham Lincoln.
They’re all murals by the electrifying young Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra – landmarks in some of the world’s biggest cities. Now they’re joined by Abraham Lincoln, a Kentuckian, in his seated pose from the Lincoln Memorial, splashed in vivid color on the 60-foot back of The Kentucky Theatre.
Kobra’s artist statement about his murals includes: “My intention is to provoke and delight, with bright colors, showing once again that art and democracy, remain fundamental to art and life as a whole.”
Interestingly, in Lexington the starburst stripes around the multicolored, harlequin-clad photorealistic President Lincoln are subtly patriotic red, white and blue – a first for his U.S. works.
The Kobra mural went up in a few days and is just one of four pieces of street art – or formerly prohibited art – that is being brought to Lexington in November by the art group PRHBTN, founded by John and Jessica Winters.
Kobra does murals on buildings and does full wall art in homes. His website is entirely in Portuguese. Other recent works were completed in London, England and Athens, Greece.
For the Lexington work, he and a crew of three assistants did the work, using cherry pickers, ladders, safety harnesses and grocery carts filled with cans of spray paint, the medium of the illegal. People stopped by throughout the week to take in-progress photos, to take photos with the artist adorned in a hoodie, ballcap and aerator, to show their children the mural.
Organizers made the Kobra painting into acommunity event, planning night parties with DJs to watch the artwork unfold and raising funds for the $17,000 cost of the mural from local merchants and organizations like the Blue Heron, West Sixth Brewery, Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and LexArts. Private donors also put funds toward the project.
As Kobra chose his topic, he asked organizers to tell him what might be an iconic visual topic in Kentucky. “Kobra really wanted to do an image that had local relevance,“ Kremena Todorova, an artist who collaborates with PRHBTN, said.
And so the suggestion of Abraham Lincoln, born in Hardin County and president from a border state through The Civil War, was the one that was taken up.
The mural of Lincoln is a few blocks from the historic Mary Todd Lincoln House, where Lincoln’s wife was raised and just a few blocks from Transylvania University, where his rival, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was educated.
As part of the third annual PRHBTN festival Nov. 15-17, three other street artists will come to town to do work, with activities kicking off on Friday’s Gallery Hop evening with an event at Buster’s Backroom and Billiards on Manchester Street.
The artist Gaia from Brooklyn, N.Y., Phlegm from Sheffield, England and Odeith from Lisbon, Portugal will do works across the city during the weekend. Gaia will paint a permanent image on the West Sixth Brewing building at Sixth and Jefferson. Odeith will paint on the Bazaar building near East Loudon Avenue. Phlegm will paint on another building in the North Limestone “NoLi” area.
PRHBTN is also responsible for the two Herakut murals in Lexington – one at Market and Short Streets, the other on the Arcadium building on North Limestone. Those works by the famed German muralist duo are the legacy of PRHBTN 2, held last fall. Doors will open about 5 p.m. for the PRHBTN event, which will feature local music and performances by Ellie Herring, at which street art will be displayed and sold.