ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Jersey City Walls Showcase International Street Artists

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

It could be a scary proposition for building owners: donate a wall and get a free mural of whatever the artist wants. But Jersey City-focused street art group Savage Habbit has property owners lining up to turn their façade into a canvas.

“It was definitely a lot of no’s in the beginning, of saying ‘No, I don’t understand why you want to paint a mural on my property’ and they think there’s strings attached,” said Savage Habbit owner/curator Inez Gradzki. “But after doing a few here and there, people started seeing that visual portfolio really speaks for itself.”

Gradzki runs Savage Habbit with the help of her artist fiancée. It’s a project of passion — they both have full-time jobs. But bringing great street art to Jersey City is a priority. So much so that they house artists to facilitate their visits.

“I want to see it for myself, so that was really the only way of actually seeing it around here without having to hop over into Brooklyn into Bushwick to see the artists’ work,” Gradzki said.

And those artists come from all over: Italy, Australia, Spain, Germany. Some she invites, others reach out to her about when they’ll be in the States.

Jersey City is an ideal location for the group because its rules on street art are different than many other municipalities. In some, murals need to be city-approved or they’re considered illegal signage.

John McInerney helped get an ordinance passed a few years back to allow street art on buildings pending the owner’s approval. He owns Hudson County Art Supply.

“Sometimes they’re actually repairing the walls,” he said. “They come in, they clean it up, buff it out, fix it, paint it, and then the artists can do what they do.”

McInerney provided the first wall painted by a Savage Habbit artist — Dulk from Spain — who opted to paint a post-Sandy tribute to the state. And now, Jersey City is home to 16 Savage Habbit murals. And they’ve attracted a fair amount of attention.

Several works are in a parking lot on Christopher Columbus Drive.

Jim Santiago grew up in Jersey City and moved back recently. He’s been helping out his brother who works at the lot.

“You’d be surprised the amount of people who stop by just to look at the murals, and take pictures, and take pictures of themselves with some of the murals,” Santiago said. “It makes me laugh because some people come and they’re standing at the gate entrance and they’re looking in and they want to take pictures and we say, ‘Come on in! Come on in!’”

That’s great news for Gradzki.

“We definitely have people coming out — we have a lot of photographers an other blogs,” Gradzki said. “And they’re actually trekking out all the way here just to take a photo of a wall.”

Paint will hit walls again in March and Gradzki has already started lining up artists for the mural-painting season to come.