Asbury Park is moving forward as an emerging visual hub for new age artists as the community immerses itself in contemporary culture.
Today, animated murals adorn the sides of haunting infrastructures, which are now insecure from the impact of natural disasters – including time.
Dozens of murals are located alongside the city’s iconic boardwalk. Larger-than-life abstract paintings also reside on buildings along the city’s streets that now house attractive eateries, retail shops and tourism.
Jenn Hampton, curator of the Parlor Gallery, which is on Cookman Avenue, said the colorful sights were non-existent until three years ago.
“I felt really weird when I would read all of these articles about Asbury Park being an un-artistic community … I noticed that people didn’t know about art, and I noticed when people would say ‘oh there are no sculptures or murals in town,’ ” Hampton said.
Hampton, being an art enthusiast herself, knew there was something that could be done to bringing art to the small city she said was in need of an artistic overhaul.
Hampton handpicks each artist to create imagery throughout the community. The thriving music and culture scene – a modern renaissance one might call it – involves playing off the intrinsic flair Asbury Park naturally exudes.
“When you are doing it, like many other things in life, you are not sure why. You’re just like, ‘I know I need to do this.’ It is interesting to see how art does change a landscape and people’s energy,” Hampton said.
“Any town that is finding its identity needs art in it,” Hampton said. “We are in an area where people don’t necessarily know about contemporary art … New Jersey isn’t really known for art. There is this narrative that needs to be changed.”
Aside from historical iconography that has existed for years in the city, including the all-too-cheery, yet slightly gothic Wonder Bar cameo, the new art that can be found throughout Asbury Park could best be defined as oceanic hyper-surrealism.
As an ode to the Atlantic Ocean, the murals are a mixture of pop culture and fantasy, components of which make each piece entirely unique and fit for the modern era.
Since 2015, Hampton said, she has facilitated the creation of 31 murals in Asbury Park.
On any given day, you can see people interacting with the murals, taking pictures alongside them and simply enjoying the beauty that is in front of them. Hampton said she admires the engagement the works receive from members of the public.
“Asbury needed new iconography,” Hampton said. “The colors they are painting our town are as sad as a wall having no art on it. Somewhere in the lineage of the art world, in design sensibilities, someone has decided that gray is high-end.
“I don’t want people to remember there are wooden walls holding up (structures) because of superstorm Sandy or because something is in flux. All of a sudden, you forget what those wooden walls represent, which is a work in progress. Now, you just remember the murals. You don’t remember things were once falling apart.”
The Parlor Gallery is redefining the way art is perceived by the individual consumer, locals and visitors. Hampton, who was once referred to as the “The Mother of Asbury,” said that as a curator, her goal is to facilitate a personal relationship between individuals and the art they view, that is, if such a relationship exits.
“I wish I could put a microphone on people when they come into galleries. They say, ‘I don’t get it. I could do that myself,’ ” Hampton said. “There is that narrative and it is interesting that this is a universal thing.”
Hampton said the personal relationships that exist between works of art and the individual are the most meaningful in terms of exposure.
“One of my goals in Asbury is to create an artists’ residency here. The ocean is inspiring. I feel like the town is inspiring. I’m wondering how (Asbury) can change an artists’ body of work. You take yourself out of the studio and you put yourself in an uncomfortable environment to see how it changes your art,” Hampton said.
Next up for a residency at the Parlor Gallery is trianglist Howard Schoor.
Schoor’s art is defined by the use of the triangle. Trianglism is a concept that Schoor, a retired civil engineer, said is accompanied by a certain aesthetic he wants viewers to appreciate as he begins to define his identity in the art world.
The inclusion of the triangle throughout the collection appears to represent Schoor’s desire for the continual use of the mechanics of precision – a quest for accuracy and symmetrically finite details.
“I am trying to go into the depths of the art process and sell my art. I know I have a chance to meet people and tell them my story. Hopefully, it will resonate and they will buy some art,” Schoor laughed.
Schoor’s exhibition may be viewed from July 28 through Sept. 1. at the Parlor Gallery, 717 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park.