Playful Patterns: Neon Op Art Murals Enliven Urban Spaces
Why not turn streets into board games or gigantic optical illusions? For artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, who work together as Jessie and Katey, the whole city is a canvas just waiting to be transformed, bringing colorful mood-brightening art to people who might not have access to or feel comfortable in conventional galleries.
The Baltimore-based duo has been working together since they met at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2001. Expressing emotion through a dazzling array of patterns in vivid hues, Jessie and Katey have developed a signature style that’s undeniably eye-catching, whether the work is a small screen print framed on a wall or a monumental mural stretching several city blocks in length. Their work has appeared in locations throughout their home city, all over the eastern coast of the United States, in Seattle at the Starbucks headquarters, and even as far afield as Hawaii.
One of their boldest pieces is “Summer Kaleidoscope,” a 400-foot-long floor mural and pop-up park developed in collaboration with Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. Transforming a local park known as The Oval, the piece features 3D elements and painted mazes, encouraging visitors to interact with it at every step of the way.
The duo also designed a gorgeous staircase for the city of Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 2017 that produces an optical illusion when you stand at its base, with shapes seeming to protrude out from the steps. That design was based on traditional Appalachian weavings.
In Seattle, a snake-like mural winds its way along the floor at the base of the iconic Space Needle. Measuring an incredible 350 feet long, “Liquid Sunshine” was created through artSEA, a local mural program, in summer 2016.
A 2017 project called “Allumination:Boston” sees the duo not only painting all four sides of a small house, but also the floor and roof, adding details like recycled tin cans, plastic bags, and bottle caps.
“We often describe our work as being like music,” Jessie told Flood Magazine in a piece about their design for the 2018 Lollapalooza festival poster. “It’s abstract and it’s fluid. It’s sort of a collaboration of different shapes, like how different sounds collaborate in music. And the fact that we collaborate with each other is pretty cool. We’re a band, basically.”
In their bio, Jessie and Katey speak of taking inspiration from textiles and board games as well, saying their work “explores themes of movement and symmetry, inspired by bold color combinations, patterns in nature, and woven textiles.”
“Over the past two years the team has been exploring traditional batik, hand dyeing, and appliqué methods in their studio, where they have created several large-scale framed paintings. These painting have been exhibited in Brooklyn, Miami, Baltimore and Russia. They have been awarded two PNC Transformative Grants to bring their bold geometric paintings to Baltimore community. Their unique partnerships with the community earned the team residencies with the The Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo, NY, The Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, ME, and the John Micheal Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI.”
Want more murals? Be sure to keep up with Jessie and Katey’s projects on Instagram.