Almost two years ago, this iconic image went up along the outside wall of Buy-Rite Liquor store near the Holland Tunnel. It was the first of several panels that would each feature respected muralists from NJ to Australia to Belarus. A year later, nearly all the walls were finished and seen by thousands of commuters every day. People hop out of their cars, photographers seek out the site as a backdrop, images are posted all over Instagram. It’s the ultimate outdoor gallery – seen by many without knowing the backstory.
“Greetings from Jersey City” (by Victor Ving & GreetingsTour) has become a local photo destination and a symbol of Jersey City used repeatedly in the press. Every time there’s a story about Jersey City as the “6th borough” or the “hot destination” (as if we didn’t know that already) the article includes at least one photo of this recognizable wall. Most of the population probably believes that the mayor and city mural program were responsible for its inception, but they’d be wrong.
Notice in the corner of the “Greetings” mural a stencil with the words “Green Villain” followed by a code – sometimes presented as hashtag: #GVM019 for example. This translates to “Green Villain Mural” while “019” indicates the chronology (19th location). “019” happens to be Buy-Rite, but #GVM022 would be a different spot (Christopher Columbus at Barrow.) The simple coding to organize via social media is part of the hyper-organized brainchild of Gregory D. Edgell, the creative mind and producer of this particular collection of murals.
Some who are familiar with “Green Villain” erroneously believe it is a street name for Edgell, but he would describe Green Villain as an art gallery, record label (Green Village) and the occasional celebratory gathering that brings together both sides of the organization.
Many of the original murals around Jersey City were a result of Green Villain’s efforts. Before Jersey City had its mural program (JCMAP), this wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish. Edgell would have to approach a building owner, convince him that his building needed a decorative wall, then negotiate a fee. Occasionally that fee would pay the artist and cover the paint supplies; sometimes it was only enough for paint and the artist would work gratis – just for the exposure.
In 2014, Green Villain obtained permission to paint the east facade of the former Pep Boys Auto Parts in the Newport area of Jersey City. That east wall faced the Light Rail and was considered a prime spot for visibility (note the theme – Holland Tunnel traffic, commuter train traffic – if your wall sits in an abandoned lot who’s going to appreciate it?)
The crew assembled for that 90 foot wall were local artists who produced a stunning array of styles with a visual cohesion that strung them together seamlessly. A year later, when the location manager announced that the building was being sold and scheduled for demolition, Edgell wanted to paint all four sides of the structure. But why stop there? He arranged for the interior to be painted as soon as the store was gutted and vacated. This arrangement required permission, funding, and ultimately a collaborative effort from the new developers Forest City Enterprises, Inc. and G&S Investors.
The end result: a 22,000 square foot structure overrun by graffiti was dubbed “Demolition Exhibition” and was soon referred to as “New Jersey’s 5Pointz.” It was a playground for artists, and while everyone involved knew the space was temporary (and that their work would be rubble in a few short months), it drew in over 100 artists and took months to cover completely, inside and out.
The story made headlines in The Wall Street Journal, in part for its unique blend of high-end real estate funding mixed with a distinct urban graff sensibility. It was edgy and different. Some locals hated it – others came from far and wide to worship it. One artist painted there so frequently and with such creative freedom (graff writers rarely get to paint openly in public, i.e. legally) that he referred to the site as his “Sistine Chapel.”
All that remains from Pep Boys are these cement remnants of the outside facade.
Now the former cinder block structure is a digital memory – catalogued even by Google Cultural Institute. But Edgell does not have the time nor temperament to look back nostalgically. There will be another “Pep Boys,” more and larger walls, deeper pockets and more prolific artists who are eager to point their spray cans at a smooth concrete wall.
All photographs property of JanyeWest except for wide shot of GVM019 by Charles A. Boyce.
For details on mural artists represented here visit #gvm004 and #gvm019 on Instagram or @janyewest