The city of Richmond is awarding a commission for a public sculpture to a Richmond-based artist for the first time in just over 10 years.
This week, the city Planning Commission approved a proposal for an abstract installation in front of the Hull Street branch of the Richmond Public Library submitted by Mickael Broth, a graffiti-artist-turned-muralist who was once jailed 10 months for painting massive tags along Interstate 95.
The 35-year-old’s work — now sought after by local businesses — appears on the interior and exterior of Mellow Mushroom in Carytown and on the water tower atop Cookie Factory Lofts near the intersection of Broad Street and the Boulevard. He also painted the giant mural of a gangly Bernie Sanders dancing on the side of an empty West Broad Street storefront.
Broth’s proposed Hull Street sculpture, his first serious venture into the genre, is a tangle of muted teals, magenta and yellows titled “Perfect Bound” — inspired “by the act of opening a book and the fantastic places it can take the reader.”
The award comes with a $50,000 commission, which covers materials and Broth’s labor, paid for by the city’s 1 percent for the arts program.
The city’s Public Art Commission solicited proposals for the project earlier this year, saying it was specifically seeking local artists after a series of high-profile projects were awarded to out-of-town sculptors, including the Maggie L. Walker statue (sculpted by Baltimore-based Toby Mendez) and the large rings on the south side of the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge (Colorado-based Joshua Weiner).
The commission last awarded a project to a local artist in 2005, when Heide Trepanier was selected for an installation at a different public library.
Ellyn Parker, the city’s public art coordinator, said the selection is a demonstration of the city’s commitment to local artists, but noted Broth was chosen based on his merit. She said Broth won over two other finalists: Andrea and Kevin Orlosky, the co-founders of Art on Wheels, and Julien Gardier.
“He wasn’t selected just because he was local,” she said. “But our selection panel was definitely excited about the idea of working with someone who knows the community, and it keeps the money in Richmond.”
Broth grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in painting and printmaking in 2005.
His graduation was delayed when, in 2004, he was sentenced to a 10-month jail sentence in Richmond and Hanover County for felony vandalism charges stemming from graffiti he had painted along Interstate 95.
He said his tag was to just write the word “refuse” as large as possible using latex house paint.
“It was definitely not what most people would consider artistic, but it was being seen by lots of eyeballs, which was what was motivating me at the time,” he said.
In jail, he said he began obsessively drawing on the advice of his mother. Through the process, he said, he developed his current style.
After working as a digital retoucher for a local photographer, he got his first break working as an assistant for Richmond muralist Ed Trask, who at the time happened to be planning the city’s first street art festival.
Trask extended an invitation for him to participate.
“It really sparked a lot,” he said. “That mural is one of the first things the art director at Mellow Mushroom saw.”
He said that, to date, his colorful painting of the building’s interior and exterior walls, completed in 2013, is probably his best-known work.
After deciding his two-dimensional work would translate well into sculpture, he said, he began pursuing the new avenue, “dabbling,” over the past year.
For the Hull Street commission, he said he’ll work with Ashland-based sculptor Jerry Peart, an experienced metal fabricator.