MERIDEN — Lincoln Middle School students rushed to the cafeteria windows Monday to gape at the progress of a spray- paint artist working outdoors on an oversize canvas.
”It’s awesome,” said Ginelly Torres, a seventh-grader. “When we came out (earlier) it was very much sketched out. I didn’t expect it to look like this.”
Ryan “ARCY” Christenson, a global graffiti artist, spray-painted a historic portrait of the school’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln, on a 10-foot-by-12-foot canvas.
Christenson, a Wallingford native, has been touring with his live art performances throughout the world. Monday’s stop at Lincoln Middle School had been planned for more than a year.
”I’ve never done Lincoln before,” Christenson said. “There is usually a social-cultural significance that reflects the community. It’s whatever resonates. Manchester High School wanted Ella Fitzgerald.”
Spray paint has traditionally gotten a bad rap, but Christenson has shown young people through murals and canvases its full range as a medium. Christenson combines photo realism with graffiti art.
The piece combines a somber portrait of Lincoln framed by the vivid color bursts and ribbons of graffiti. School Principal Dianne Vumback spotted Mickey Mouse ears in the lower right corner above Christenson’s “ARCY” signature.
”These kids are seeing spray paint in a positive way,” Christenson said. “If you look, the splash and splatter and drips pays tribute to graffiti. It maintains an edginess.”
Christenson is known for large scale art he creates all over the world and for organizations like Major League Baseball, Disney and the National Park Service. He also does art for state and county fairs, where he can showcase his fondness for wildlife painting.
Christenson graduated from Sheehan High School in Wallingford and a fellow alum now teaches at Lincoln and recruited him for a project.
The school received a $15,000 grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts to further the Higher Order Thinking approach to learning. Christenson’s work was part of the grant funding, Vumback said.
Art teacher Rachel Ash is teaching her students about color and various mediums, while students read about graffiti in their the language arts classes. Christenson’s performance helped integrate those lessons, she said.
“This is a collaboration with the English teachers,” Ash said. “The students are reading a novel that involved graffiti. We use art in the classroom to talk about graffiti and its significance.”
The students are encouraged to create their own graffiti art, but spray paint is taboo in the classroom.
“I better not see this in the bathrooms or you’re in trouble,” Vumback joked with Ash. Vumback and other staffers watched Christenson’s progress throughout Monday as students took out their cameras to get photos.
“Today was phenomenal,” Vumback said. “To actually see the application shows you how engaged they are. Those are the signs where we all say ‘we hit the nail on the head with this one.’”
Finding a place to hang the mural is a challenge and Vumback will ask students to make recommendations.
Art student Frankie Cortes stepped outside the cafeteria frequently to check ARCY’s progress.
“It’s a nice scheme — a lot of blue and black, they contrast nicely,” Cortes said of Christenson’s work. “They all just work very nicely together. It’s kind of cool how he did a modern spray paint style and a more historical figure character. I think it blended perfectly well. Usually, it can’t be done easily.”