Downtown, Artists Paint Outside the Box

Kapp Singer | January 5th, 2024

Downtown, Artists Paint Outside the Box

Downtown  |  Public art  |  Arts & Culture  |  Town Green Special Services District

IMG_2520A traffic box on Chapel Street painted by Elizabeth Taylor. Photos Kapp Singer.

A few cherry blossoms are peaking unusually early this year. Down the block, roses and sunflowers make an appearance, too.

These small prismatic moments are courtesy of the Town Green Special Services District's Straight Up Art public art program, which commissioned Elizabeth Taylor and Candyce “Marsh” John to paint over a dozen traffic boxes up and down Chapel, Temple, and Crown streets. The two artists, who began painting the boxes in August, with Taylor finishing her final mural in November, have brought a pop of color to the gray downtown winter days.

Taylor, a West Haven-based artist who paints a variety of public murals and signage under her business LaCroix Artistry, chose to depict a number of botanicals across eleven traffic boxes. There are yellow and orange elm leaves, snaking ivy, and swooping monsteras.

IMG_2510IMG_2543Traffic boxes painted by Taylor on Chapel Street and Crown Street, respectively.

“I wanted to use nature-inspired motifs. I wanted the art to be something pretty, something nice to look at,” she said in a phone interview.

The crisp lines and blocks of color from Taylor’s brush stand in contrast to the smooth, saturated gradients from Marsh’s spray cans. Across three traffic boxes, the New Haven-based artist, who works under the moniker Marshun Art, painted a variety of Afrofuturist-inspired portraits.

In one, located in front of the Omni Hotel on Temple Street, a three-eyed woman with long, triangular tessellations of hair wears an ornate dress. She appears to float in the sky. On the back of the box rises up a faint likeness of New Haven’s skyline—perhaps imagined years and years from now, but still containing the signature postmodern pyramidal peak of the Connecticut Financial Center.

In another, a woman with chartreuse sunglasses and electric blue hair, wearing a spacesuit, blows a huge pink bubble of gum. Geometric mountains sit on the horizon behind her, beneath a yellow and blue sky.

Marsh3Marsh3-backFront and rear views of Marsh's Temple Street mural.

“This is what things could look like in the future—these bright colors.” Marsh said. “How will we still exist in any form of this world?”

The pieces were originally painted for 6th Dimension, an Afofuturist exhibition and arts festival in New Haven and Hamden, which ran from late August to late October. The traffic boxes extend the imaginative possibilities of the exhibition not only out in time, but also into the fabric of the city.

Marsh1Marsh2Traffic boxes painted by Marsh on Chapel Street and Temple Street, respectively.

“It’s important for kids to see other Brown faces that are happy, with bright colors,” Marsh said. “I wanted to create pieces that people like me can relate to when they’re walking by—something to relate to that’s important”

“I want people to have things to look at and think about the time in which we are living. Art is important for history.”

With the traffic boxes, Marsh has added to her collection of public art downtown, which includes a Black Lives Matter mural on Temple St., painted in collaboration with Jesse Wolf and Carlos Perez in 2020, and a 2022 piece, entitled EQ, which covers the entire block of Orange Street between Center and Crown. She also works across a variety of other media, including smaller scale canvas painting, digital illustration, and tattoo. 

“I’ve always found art to be my voice,” Marsh said. “I haven’t always been the most vocal being, so art has been a way to give back to the community.”

Her paintings envelope the entire surface of the traffic boxes, with angular patterns that draw viewers to cross the street and peek around the edge. There could be an entire city on the other side.

“I want the brightness to hold you for a second,” Marsh said. 

A map of the traffic boxes, as well as Town Green’s other public art installations, can be found here.