NEW YORK – New York is sprinkled with barely visible old ads painted on the sides of buildings – remnants of lost eras of urban life. They’re making a comeback as a nostalgic art form.
Painters known as “walldogs” work on scaffolds, dipping brushes into a lineup of open paint cans.
Then come the details, carefully brushed in gleaming color onto walls that are sometimes hundreds of years old.
“So it’s like, ‘Make me a bucket of soup,”’ says Art Pastusak, 61, a master mentoring apprentice walldogs. “Slap it on the wall, and let’s crank.”
Paul Lindahl co-founded the company leading the comeback, Colossal Media. He hired Pastusak to teach what he’s been doing for three decades to a younger generation.
Though computers have taken over, ad painting fascinates people, says Lindahl, who likens the craft to performance art.
“People really stop and they watch, and they want to know what’s going on, and they want to know what it is that you’re painting,” Lindahl says.
Apprentice Liam McWilliams, 23, says it’s “very exciting” to work with people who have been doing this their whole lives “through the snow, the heat, day in and day out.”
On a recent day, they made a beautiful, red-lipped woman a brunette in an ad for the social network Badoo as they stood suspended five stories above the street.
Painting ads is one method of promoting products that dates to the 1800s, when advertising murals were painted by hand on blank brick side walls.
Hand-painted wall advertising peaked in the early 1980s and faded in popularity as computers made large-scale vinyl printing possible.
But “the respect for a hand-painted sign is still there,” Pastusak says.
So it’s comeback time for a job that’s not easy.
“At the end of the day you have to be able to meet a deadline, and you have to be able to make it look like it wasn’t painted,” Lindahl says.
Fans such as Frank Jump, author of the new book Fading Ads of New York City, says hand-painted wall ads are close to modern art.
“The best thing about a hand-painted sign,” he says, “is it’s hand-painted.”
Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press photos
Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press