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The Artists' Way: St. Louis Muralists Take Over Washington University Underpass 

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De'Joneiro Jones organized the project and contributed his own works. - NICHOLAS COULTER
  • NICHOLAS COULTER
  • De'Joneiro Jones organized the project and contributed his own works.

In many ways, abstract expressionism has given voice to Black artists as a response to what has become systemic racism in the United States. This includes the murders of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — and so many murders of unarmed Black and brown men and women, including Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Atatiana Jefferson, Charles Roundtree Jr., Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray Jr., Tamir Rice and Michael Brown Jr. among others. Since the slaying of Brown, Jones, who was recommended to organize and implement this entire mural project by Wash U Vice Provost Adrienne Davis, has placed the memories of the slain in the heart and soul of his art with the intention of seeking justice for them and an end to the reasons underlying the violence.

Burrow designed and created the panels of the mural located on the south part of the east wall of the underpass. This artwork depicts a unity of purpose between multiple races and beliefs with the American flag waving in the background. He begins the first panel with a meditating figure, half Black, half white, transcending race and freeing the mind to a metaphysical state of consciousness. In the next panel Burrow places emphasis on positivity with the portrait of a brown-skinned child reading from a book. The book has gold pages and a regal cover that suggests that the way to knowledge, wealth and power is through study and learning, science and fact. This recalls the idealized views of regionalists as opposed to social realist painters, and Burrow's waving flag invokes Jasper Johns' rigid Three Flags. Burrow's art also reflects the style of a precisionist. From an early age Burrow spent time drawing, and his artwork reflects this training. Those who were fortunate enough to see the artist at work on the mural noted how detail oriented and carefully constructed Burrow's work is. (More on the art of Roland Burrow can be found at www.mccaughenandburr.com/artists/burrow-roland/.)

Ronald Burrow's portrait of a child reading a golden book. - NICHOLAS COULTER
  • NICHOLAS COULTER
  • Ronald Burrow's portrait of a child reading a golden book.

One final panel that deserves the utmost respect and gratitude of all those viewing this project is a portrait of Robert Lee Williams II by Seals. Williams was a professor emeritus of psychology and, more importantly to this project, the founder and first director of the African and Afro-American studies program at Wash U.

To visit this display of public art, head to the South 40 Underpass located just south of the Francis Olympic Field on the Danforth Campus of Washington University.

The documentarian and photographer for this project is Nicholas Coulter. He has provided daily documentation of the project from day one through its completion. He has provided the photography for this article and will release a documentary film of the project in the near future.

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