Murals in Midwood

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Call it the power of positive art.

The streets and schools of Midwood are getting a splash of color thanks to a Queens-based street artist bringing his vibrant hues to the neighborhood to enliven the creative community and show kids the importance of public art.

Aerosol artist Nicholai Khan completed his first of two Midwood murals on July 7 at Edward R. Murrow High School at E. 17th Street and Chestnut Avenue, in front of the Murrow Garden in the back courtyard.

The vibrant landscape was inspired by a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where he said he was struck by the diversity of the views — from the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden to the western-themed desert collection — a diversity he said mirrors the surrounding community.

“I wanted to symbolize the diversity in Brooklyn and in New York, and to embrace and enhance that,” said Khan. “I’m a visual person and I believe visuals can speak languages.”

The mural was created in collaboration with local arts organization 501(See)(Streets) — whose name is a play on the 501(c)(3) tax designation for charities — which aims to enliven communities through public art.

Khan expects to complete the second mural at Pizza Time on Avenue J at E. 14th Street by Aug. 1 and said it will showcase children with different hobbies, from pizza-making to painting, as a testament to the rich array of people and professions in the neighborhood.

“Midwood is very diverse in terms of how many different types of jobs there are,” he said. “I wanted to promote that and show the beauty of Midwood.”

Khan said the optimism of the piece, which illustrates the importance of children to a community’s future, is a breath of fresh air for him after the devastation of watching seven of his career-defining murals disappear when the famed 5Pointz exhibition in Long Island City was whitewashed before the building’s demolition in 2014.

The Trinidadian-born artist said 5Pointz represented a vital turning point in his life, when he realized he could channel his artistic impulses in a positive way and leave behind his fraught history of gang activity as a kid growing up in Flatbush, where his immigrant family moved when he was 7.

“It was a good, safe place,” said Khan. “I had a background in graffiti and vandalism, and 5Pointz had given me an opportunity to not have to do that.”

With the Midwood murals, Khan is reclaiming the ability to create street art in a safe place, and is passing along the message of healthy artistic expression to kids in his home borough.

“I turned my tragedy of being arrested for making graffiti into a triumph,” said Khan. “I want to show people the emotional, spiritual, and psychological value art can have in an area.”

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 11:21 am, July 23, 2015
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