Artistic posters about hope reimagine Richmond street wall

The Hope Wall, located near the intersection of Grove and Shields avenues, displays posters that reflect the message of hope. Photo by Jon Mirador

Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer

Nine colorful posters decorating a short red wall at Grove and Shields avenues depict images ranging from vibrant and easy-to-read text to abstract works with intricate messages. Despite the diverse array of artwork, they all follow one central theme — hope.

John Malinoski, a retired VCUarts graphic design professor and organizer of the Hope Wall, conceptualized the project last summer with two other organizers, Ashley Kistler, former director of the Anderson Gallery, and fellow retired VCUarts graphic design professor Rob Carter. 

The group’s mission is to bring a sense of hope to anyone who sees the wall, especially during the political and social unrest in the U.S. and the COVID-19 pandemic, Malinoski said.

“I think it just came about because of mutual interests and resources that we could easily share,” Malinoski said. “We all had this overwhelming interest in hope during these times.”

The trio now reaches out to other artists from around the world to create posters for the wall, which is owned by Kistler. According to Malinoski, the organizers have seen exponential growth in submissions for the wall since the first installment went up this past summer.

“Early on, when the wall wasn’t quite as widespread, we got posters in, and they went up quite quickly,” Malinoski said. “Right now, if we got a poster today, it might not be up until April.”

The wall is now on its eighth round of posters and has featured work from more than 50 artists. The organizers swap out the nine posters every three weeks, Malinoski said. To paste the posters to the wall, Malinoski uses a homemade adhesive made of wheat, flour and sugar boiled in water.

This poster by Netherlandian artist Jerry-Lee Bosmans states, “The sun will rise again and so will you.” It is one of nine posters currently on the wall. Photo by Jon Mirador

“It’s special in the sense that it’s so simple,” Malinoski said. “And it’s a method that’s been used for many, many years.”

Reactions to the Hope Wall have been overwhelmingly positive, Malinoski said.

“It allows people to be civic in a time of lockdowns, so they can go out for a walk and see the wall,” Malinoski said. “And every three weeks, they can visit this wall and see something new. I think that’s really important.”

Erik Brandt, Malinoski’s former student and chair of the design department at the Minneapolis College of Art Design, has participated twice in the project. Initially, Brandt’s approach to the project was a darker take on the theme of hope, expressing his thoughts on the 2020 presidential election.

“At that point, it was pre-election,” Brandt said. “So, my response to the concept of hope was hopeless.”

Brandt’s first contribution to the wall, titled “Hope Less,” features a heavily altered photograph of former President Donald Trump, who is depicted with green skin, yellow hair and a bright orange tie. A purple hue colors Trump’s eyes, and purple fangs of a screeching primate are superimposed over his mouth, yelling into a microphone. The poster was part of the debut installment of the wall.

“Even if it’s been hard to experience those emotions because of the pandemic and our continued isolation, there’s a continued hope for the future.” — Erik Brandt, Hope Wall contributor

The title of the piece is written across the center of the disturbing image, with the last two letters resembling Nazi imagery. Brandt said the typography is meant to signify the severe nature of the former president and his followers’ actions and behavior.

Brandt, who grew up in northern Germany, found using the imagery difficult to include but necessary to convey his message that Trump’s ideology is similar to that of previous fascistic political movements. 

“It’s a commentary on both the person and the so-called movement, which I think is generous and wrong,” the artist said. “Because it is essentially something we know for many years. Fascism and evil — pure and simple.”

In stark contrast with “Hope Less,” Brandt’s most recent poster, “Hope Full,” has a more positive message. The poster, exhibited during the sixth edition of the wall, features winglike black shapes that flare out and a single green shape that sits in the upper left corner. Below the abstract image, lowercase black text reads, “hope has no shape and it can fill any heart.”

“I think, as simple as the sentiment is, that’s what a lot of people have been feeling or yearning for,” Brandt said. “Even if it’s been hard to experience those emotions because of the pandemic and our continued isolation, there’s a continued hope for the future.”

For both Brandt and Malinoski, the Hope Wall is an extension of the use of posters as a means of expression. Historically, posters have been a cheap and effective way to communicate a number of topics, from simple advertisements to protest movements. 

“They are projections of culture — it is where the symphony will play, it is where this event will happen, it is where this gathering of people will be,” Brandt said. “The poster is something for the human scale. It’s for pedestrians walking in the city and being together in that way. It’s something that we would love to see more of in our world.”

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