A zoo is moving into Janesville’s downtown—and they’re here to stay.
An Italian sparrow now overlooks the Rock River from its cream yellow perch alongside the outdoor porch of Genisa Wine Bar, 11 N. Main St.
Two blocks to the northeast, animals including a sloth, butterflies and a platypus were taking shape Thursday along a playground retaining wall at St. Mary School, 307 E. Wall St.
The murals are part of Janesville’s annual Art Infusion series which aims to bring public art in the form of murals and chalk art competitions to the downtown. A total of six new murals will join the city’s landscape this weekend, with artists coming from Madison, Miami, Detroit, South Bend, Indiana and Mexico City.
Art Infusion is this Friday through Sunday, Sept. 9-11. The sidewalk chalk competition will go on Saturday and Sunday at Firehouse Park, 113 N. Main St., with themes of the “Great Outdoors” in Janesville and black and gray monochrome.
Participating artist Chris Silva found his start as a teenager as he and his friends made graffiti on the rooftops and train tracks of Chicago.
He also enjoyed skateboarding, Silva added, but knew by his late teens it wouldn’t be his career path. He instead looked to graffiti, where he found other artists adding in abstract elements.
“I started focusing on art more (and) started seeing things happening that other more advanced graffiti artists were doing in Chicago. It made me think that I wanted to add my voice to it a little more and pursue it more seriously,” he recalls.
Silva and his friend, Erik C. Harris, a Chicago-area artist and filmmaker, competed the Italian Sparrow at Genisa Wine Bar over the past week.
One of the requirements for the piece was that the cream yellow color of the brick needed to be incorporated. Clouds in various shades of blue were painted below the sparrow. It sits on a green pole in front of another yellow cloud, a striped orange sun and a polka-dotted blue sky, with gaps of brick left exposed.
Silva said he’s always been drawn to animals, especially birds, and originally designed the piece with a red-winged blackbird. Coordinators suggested the sparrow instead, citing a relevance to the Italian-themed wine bar.
Silva has done murals in other cities, but this is his first in Janesville. He added that along the Rock River is one of the best locations he’s worked at.
“It’s crazy how many different awesome vantage points there are,” Silva said as he sat on the outdoor deck of the wine bar. “Right here, and multiple level decks you can look at it. It’s super cool, it’s lit up at night even.
“So yeah, it’s gonna be hard to beat.”
The animals being painted on the retaining wall at St. Mary School will look familiar to its students.
Artist Emily Balsley, of Madison, is creating it out of drawings students submitted to her earlier this summer. She sifted through those and then tweaked them to fit her whimsical art style.
The changes are subtle enough that students can recognize their art.
“I had one kiddo yesterday came up and said, ‘My platypus is in your mural!’” she said. “He recognized it from the get-go, which is really cool, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted it to look like an Emily Balsley mural. But at the same time, I want the kids to see themselves in the art.”
Balsley’s mural will feature a total of 23 animals, including two bees. The retaining wall is along a hill, with the animals growing in size as a person walks away from the school. As of Thursday, she had clocked about 13 hours, and had at least another 30 hours to go.
Balsley is an artist like her mother, who introduced her to different art books and supplies as a non-traditional college student seeking an art degree. Being an artist remained an abstract concept until she went to college, where she studied graphic design. She later worked as a bike designer for over a decade before going freelance. She now illustrates children’s books, posters and games.
Balsley said she appreciates the accessibility of the mural event. It’s a plus that it’s next to a school, she added, saying she hopes it will encourage students to see art as an option outside of the classroom.
“I really want to encourage kids to go on to the arts,” she said. “These kids are seeing me physically painting it, so they’ve seen the whole process. I think that’s a really cool thing for them to see (that) hopefully will inspire them.”