Emilio 2010). The color and bold stroke-work of

Emilio Herrera Corichi is an artist, painter
and sculptor from Puebla, Mexico (Gellman, 2017). In New Haven, Connecticut,
sits the former Strong School, which has been left abandoned and forgotten.

Corichi saw this school as a blank canvas and, combined with community
involvement, managed to create a beautiful, multi-paneled, mural that is just as
much the work of the people of New Haven as it is the artist himself. This
mural is untitled, speaking its message through the canvas it lies on and the
people of the community that helped make it possible. This is muralism at its
finest, acting as a form of “social expression for mass public communication” (Indych-López,
2007).   

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            The
mural itself is an explosion of bright color and bold shapes that communicate
various messages that speak to the surrounding community of New Haven. It is
divided into many “panels” that were formerly windows and doors of the old
Strong School. The first thing that came to mind when I saw this mural was
Duluth’s old armory building off London Road. Each panel features different
works with a common message. The combination of Corichi’s bold color and design
and the aged-building it stands on is a testament to the life that lives in
these old structures. I feel that the style of Corichi’s work reflects the
simplistic and repetitive styles we saw in Adolfo Best-Maugard’s methods. There
is little detail in the panels, and it is rather two-dimensional. Like
Best-Maugard, this contradiction of pre-established visual components is
symbiotically tied to the “natural creativity of the child” (Reiman, 2010). The
color and bold stroke-work of the figures attacks the viewer’s eye, almost
begging to be seen; impossible to be missed against the worn-brick façade of
the building. I am reminded of children’s coloring books, where the decisions
to place color do not necessarily reflect what colors should be used.

Recognizable imagery such as musical notes, skulls, letters, symbols (such as
the Ying-Yang), and figures of color are represented amidst the bold line work.

The initial design was first transferred to the panels and, in true community
spirit, the painting itself was completed by the families and children of New
Haven (with light direction from Corichi) (Miller, 2017).  

            The
references in Corichi’s mural panels are those that seem to highlight various
iconography that the surrounding community would find meaning in. There had
been a prior proposal to create an arts and cultural center within the former
school; a proposal that had been rejected by the city (Grauer, 2017). Those who
worked closely with Corichi helped him to represent the New Haven community,
one rich in diversity. The surrounding neighborhoods make up a strong
population of Latino families, African immigrants, Jews, Muslims, and Indians (Gellman,
2017). This became a recipe for this mural to not only speak to and invite
these families to help, but also served as a message to the city itself that
the arts should be nourished in these communities. One example of iconography
was an African woman carrying a baby on her back (Gellman, 2017). This figure
was initially supposed to be a man, but as the mural design began to make its
way to the panels of the school, Corichi and locals changed it to a woman (Gellman,
2017). I think this is another way that Mexican muralism speaks to the
communities where they are placed. One could assume that New Haven’s audience
would be mothers and their children, paying homage to motherhood and the care
that they install, not only in their child’s life, but in the life of the
community. The fact that the artist made this decision “on the spot” shows his
desire to be involved in New Haven and have a strong stance on the message of
the mural. Muralism itself possessed the “international acclaim which helped to consolidate the movement
and the claims of Revolutionary and cultural nationalism” (Indych-López,
2007).   

            Emilio
Corichi has been working more than twenty years as a muralist, painter, and
sculpture (Miller, 2017). He is no stranger to working with communities and
collaboratively creating pieces that speak to the community members (Miller,
2017). From Corichi’s portfolio (Carpeta do Obras), it can be observed that the
artist is familiar with working with many different installation types and
venues. He features portraits predominantly, as well as religious motifs and
experiments in abstraction. I think that Corichi can be characterized, however,
by his use of bold color. Like in the Strong School mural, his portfolio
showcases similar, block-like figures and extensive uses of highly saturated
color palates. I believe that Corichi’s experience in color helped dictate this
mural for the school. The simplicity of the shapes and the bright colors would
be highly engaging for children, who were invited along with their families to
participate in the painting of the mural. The color also speaks “boldness” for
the message of the mural, going against the oppressiveness of the city (in this
case, denying the community an arts and cultural center). Corichi appears to be
a man of many talents, directly channeling his Mexican heritage in his
technique, color-use, and installation locations and messages.      

            The
creation of this mural at the Strong School has been received with positive and
supportive feedback. There were approximately one hundred people that came
through to lend a hand and do their part to make sure the mural was completed
(Suarez, 2017). The initial planning of this mural, due in part to the
collaborative efforts of Corichi and the members of New Haven, helped aid in
its execution. Because of this planning, the mural can represent the different
cultures of the area with very little detail, drawing on Corichi’s personal
artistic style. However, it is the collaborative nature of the mural that
really lends to its message. The community itself was invited to paint,
collaborate and get involved (Gellman, 2017). This tells me that this mural is
a positive symbol in the community and has succeeded in its message to the
members of the neighborhood. I think that when people have the opportunity to
lend a hand in the creation of an artwork, even if just a brushstroke, it gives
them a further sense of pride in the work. We learned this first-hand when
installing our Chican/x America mural tribute. The Strong School mural is a
true testament to Mexican muralism, in the sense that it communicates by
identifying with its audience and goes a step further, to allowing the audience
to leave their mark on the mural.

            The
history of the Chicano/a muralist movement is largely dominated by Los Tres
Grandes, however I think it’s interesting to view how muralism as a whole
has spoken so strongly to the Mexican heritage. The “ability of the Mexican
muralists to project nationalist imagery in a transcultural dialogue” is what
makes muralism so unique (Indych-López, 2007). A common theme that we have
learned is that Mexico is consistently searching for its “voice” and its
identity. This journey for defining the country’s identity, ironically, was
massively fluid and constantly changed over the years. I would say that
muralism is one of the greatest defining features of Mexican culture because it
spoke to its people directly. It gave audiences a platform for viewing that was
often easily accessible and spread messages that the audience could understand
and identify with. Always driven with an intense “purpose,” the murals of old
were to communicate either the artist’s or the commissioner’s ideals in a grand
way. It’s apparent that Corichi’s mural holds true to these ideals. The scale
of the mural is grand, although split into several different panels, and it
holds a message that the people would identify with and understand. In a way,
Corichi could be preserving this cultural definition through his conscious
decision to express his artwork in a mural setting. He is making the choice
to collaborate with the community and paint at large scale. It seems that those
of Mexican heritage often will rely on the movements of the past and take them
in a new direction. For example, responses to muralism involved the creation of
such “internationally
oriented, cosmopolitan vanguards such as estridentismo” that
revolted against the politically driven murals being created by Los Tres
Grandes (Indych-López, 2007). In Corichi’s case, he is using muralism as
part of his medium; as an inspiration that speaks to his culture and to
the message he and the New Haven community are trying to communicate. Arts in
the New Haven community are important, not only to Corichi, but to the
residents themselves. Because the artist also decided to get the community involved
directly, he opened his work to potential criticisms and changes. In this
sense, he goes against traditional muralism and allows his vision to be
directly influenced by the community members, producing a mural that has a
stronger link to the audience.

            In
conclusion, Corichi’s mural at the old Strong School in New Haven, Connecticut,
is a truly Mexican-inspired piece of artwork; both in execution and message.

The fact that he drew upon culturally significant movements and styles to
create a modern appropriation of muralism in a community-influenced setting is
remarkably ambitious. Anyone who chooses to collaborate on such a large-scale
project undertakes a lot of responsibility. The iconography represented
reflects the community in which the mural stands and the many cultures that
make up New Haven’s diverse neighborhoods. The colors “show love” and reflect
the artist’s personal style, one that infuses Mexican culture and heritage
(Gellman, 2017). The mural was largely received by its audience and Corichi’s
invitation to have the community directly partake in its creation was testament
to the importance of arts in New Haven. However long this mural stands, its
message to the people and city is undeniably important and, in my opinion,
deserves high consideration when considering the future of the arts and
cultures in these neighborhoods.  

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