Walk This Way: Jeremy Raymer’s One-Man Arts District

mural of Andy Warhol and peeled pink banana by artist Jeremy Raymer

Peel slowly. Warhol/electric banana mural by Jeremy Raymer, Mulberry Way, Lawrenceville

We can still go for a walk.

These are–take your pick—strange, scary, stressful, uncertain, even apocalyptic times. But we all know a daily dose of leg-stretching and fresh-air-breathing is crucial to both our physical and mental health during even the best of days. Make no exception now; you need those things more than ever.

The daily constitutional also happens to be one of the few things we can still do–outside of the home–that is just as freely available now as it was a month ago, before the plague set in.

mural of cartoon horse wearing suit by artist Jeremy Raymer

Log! Mulberry Way

Don’t look for any streets signs marking Raymer Way; you won’t find it on any maps. That’s just our name for it. But there exists a three-block stretch of lower Lawrenceville that fully deserves one of those ceremonial placards, like the zoo’s One Wild Place or Amazing Kids Way in Squirrel Hill.

It’s there, on two long stretches of Mulberry Way, an alley running parallel with Butler Street, plus another short block of 35th Street, where rock-and-roll mural artist Jeremy Raymer has created a one-man, open air arts district. It’s yours for the perusing any time there’s enough daylight to read the (often very dark) wall surfaces–and you won’t encounter enough other people to worry about social distancing.

identical brick row houses, one with elaborate mural across the entire front, Pittsburgh, PA

The house that started it all. Chez Ray, 35th Street

Jeremy Raymer, over email, describes the evolving process:

The entire thing started from the previous owner of the warehouse at 35th and Charlotte seeing me painting my house [across the street] and asking if I wanted to paint on his warehouse. I said yes and started covering the [35th Street] side with the heart, eyes, and Hedy Lamarr murals first, then wanting more space and moving into the [Mulberry Way] alley.

Once this was covered I did want more space, so a few months back, I approached the owner of Morcilla and asked about doing a small piece on the alley entry to the restaurant, so I did that and then I wanted to see about more space, so I approached the Perlora warehouse and after a little bit of convincing (from me and some of their employees who are fans), they agreed to give me free reign on the alley portion of their warehouse. The initial intent was just a practice space for me and its just organically grown into what it is now.

mural of man's face on service entry to restaurant

David (?), Morcilla back entrance, Mulberry Way

If you’ve spent any time in Lawrenceville, the Strip District, or central North Side, you know Raymer’s work. Think of the giant image of (super hero) Magneto along AAA Scrap Metal’s Penn Avenue building and fence, the full wall Roberto Clemente on Verdetto’s Bar in Spring Garden, or the big Deutschtown Sasquatch. There are also a ton of smaller pieces–of sports figures, wild animals, and art references–that turn up on commercial storefronts, restaurant interiors, and pocket parks around the city.

If those are the final, big marquee commissioned pieces, Raymer Way is the sketch pad, the studies and scribbles. “I am basically allowed to do whatever I please,” Raymer says of his agreement with the Lawrenceville property owners, “I am given permission, but no sponsorship and it has all been on my accord and at my own cost.”

Mural of human heart on cinderblock wall by Jeremy Raymer, Pittsburgh, PA

Purple heart, 35th Street

Raymer’s murals fall clearly in the world of pop art. They’re big, over-saturated with electric color, using spray paint–the medium of choice for street art–that often has a certain airbrushed quality, and focus on subject matter around celebrity, movie characters, cartoons, and visual puns. He also has a particular affinity for the color purple.

At their best, Raymer has an incredibly deft hand and soft touch with a can of Krylon. He’s got a great color sense for what’s going to pop from a cinderblock wall or read through the roll-up mechanism of a retail security door. His portraits of real people are arresting, vivid, and fill the walls with an obvious holistic vision that treats the space as a broad canvas to be considered in toto. Raymer’s goofier stuff shows that he’s got a sense of humor and doesn’t take any of this too seriously–something altogether missing from so many artists.

Jeremy Raymer mural on cement block wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Purple Hedy Lamarr, 35th Street

mural of large mouth in purple by artist Jeremy Raymer

Big purple mouth, 35th Street

mural of man's face by artist Jeremy Raymer

Purpleish man, Mulberry Way

mural of purple witch painted by artist Jeremy Raymer

Purple witch, Mulberry Way

mural of purple bunny by artist Jeremy Raymer

Big purple bunny, Mulberry Way

mural of block of blue cheese painted by artist Jeremy Raymer

Blue cheese blues, Mulberry Way

Now, I’ll be the first to say I don’t love all of Raymer’s murals. Do we really need wall-sized portraits of the green Ghostbusters slime monster, Simpsons characters, or–sorry, Star Wars fans–Yoda? A matched pair of Buffalo chicken wings with a halo is kind of funny … kind of.

But let me say this: I have tremendous respect for anyone who goes out there and does their thing and gets this much stuff done, over and over again. To spend one’s free time–not to mention money–on materials, in negotiating with landlords, and decorating the alley backsides of anonymous buildings, is a tremendous gift to Lawrenceville and the city at large.

… and that gift is yours, whenever you’re ready to take that walk.

mural of Yoda painted by artist Jeremy Raymer

Hrmmm, on walls he paints. Yoda, Mulberry Way

mural of green monster by artist Jeremy Raymer

Bustin’ makes me feel good! Mulberry Way

mural of chicken wings with an angel's halo painted by artist Jeremy Raymer

Chicken wings/halo, Mulberry Way

mural by Jeremy Raymer including a heart with keyhole and key

The key to your heart, Mulberry Way

mural of multicolor skull by artist Jeremy Raymer

Skull, Mulberry Way

Getting there: The Raymer Way murals are on Mulberry Way, lower Lawrenceville, between 34th and 36th Streets, as well as 35th Street, between Mulberry Way and Charlotte Street. There are plenty of other Raymer murals in near walking distance throughout Lawrenceville and The Strip District. There’s even a map of locations on his web site.

Follow Jeremy Raymer on Instagram at @jeremyMraymer or @raymerarttours. For contact information and a map of his Pittsburgh murals, see jmraymer.com.

Related: see also “An Orbit Obit: Where the Buffalo Roamed,” Pittsburgh Orbit, Dec. 12, 2015.

An Orbit Obit: Where the Buffalo Roamed

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalo with painted fence

Last photographic evidence of the now-extinct sidewalk buffalo of lower Lawrenceville, Summer 2015

The lore will be passed-down for generations to come. It was a time when proud giants strode the streets (err…sidewalks) of lower Lawrenceville; their brilliant purple, red, white, and gold colors shimmering and electrifying the drab, weed-cracked concrete blocks. Mere mortals freely walked foot-to-hoof with these legendary lords of the great plains. Every one of the animals was rendered in its own style–the group less herd and more party of like-shaped individuals; each creature with its own agenda. Though trampled underfoot, they still managed to stand tall–at least if you stood back far enough to get the angle right.

sidewalk painting of purple, red, and white buffalo

Purple pain: one big hombre

If you find yourself at the corner of 35th and Charlotte Streets in Lawrenceville’s sixth ward, you won’t miss Jeremy Raymer‘s house. The otherwise standard-issue two-story Pittsburgh rowhouse is covered–foundation to soffit–in big, eye-popping mural portraiture. Around the side, a gray, picket fence is more loosely painted in an ever-evolving array of icons. The closest telephone pole is covered in an odd assortment of push-pinned offerings. [More about all of this, hopefully, in some future Orbit story.] The one thing you won’t see anymore is the fantastic parade of buffalo that roamed freely on Raymer’s sidewalks just weeks ago.

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalo

Lascaux-a-go’alo: caveman street buffalo

It was a surprise to see them disappear so quickly. Street art is by its very nature temporary/ephemeral, but we hope the good stuff will get a little time in the sunshine before the man sends in the clouds. Having just taken these photos in August, we arrived back at the same intersection a mere couple months later with nothing but the faintest outlines of the great beasts remaining. It was a sad reminder of both how fleeting grace can be and also how potentially on-the-verge-of-dissolution pretty much everything is. The great American street bison is clearly no exception.

sidewalk painting of purple, red, and white buffalo

All wound up: mechanique’alo

We got in touch with Mr. Raymer to ask about the sudden extinction of his herd. He verified that indeed he was the perpetrator (the buffalos were loosely based on series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge taken in late 19th century), planning to make them last, Raymer painted the buffalos in Montana Gold spray paint, and that a neighbor filed an official complaint about the sidewalk paintings. The city’s Graffiti Task Force was called-in and was therefore obligated to power wash them away. (Apparently the city would not have acted but for the formal complaint.) Raymer would like to re-paint his sidewalks with a new to-be-decided theme at some point in the future, but this time he’ll go through official channels to do so.

Sequence of a buffalo (American bison) galloping. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion).

Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic sequence of a buffalo (American bison) galloping, 1887

The whole thing raises an interesting series of questions. Sidewalks are this curious blend of public and private space and the letter of the law doesn’t necessarily add up logically. Technically, one’s sidewalks are part of the property lot and the homeowner (not the city) is legally responsible for the care and maintenance, including weed, snow, and ice removal, patching and replacing cracked concrete, etc. Sidewalks are undeniably public thoroughfares that everyone uses and are absolutely essential to a healthy urban environment. They also offer great opportunities for expression.

Shouldn’t Raymer (or anyone else) be allowed to decorate his own property–that he’s legally responsible for maintaining–in a way he chooses? Why is he allowed to paint the public-facing fence, but not the adjacent sidewalk, which is inches away and just as visible? If the same neighbors objected to his wall murals, would the city be in power to act on those complaints? And if one is painting his or her own property, does it really count as graffiti?

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalos

Then: corner buffalo (and friend)

faded outline of a buffalo painted on sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Now: the same corner with the last traces of the once-proud herd of Lawrenceville’s sidewalk buffalo

The Orbit does not pretend to have answers to these questions, nor do we want to vilify the residents who objected to the paintings. That said, this hardcore all-seasons blogging pedestrian would like to see the neighbors of Lawrenceville put that same keep-the-sidewalks-clean enthusiasm put into clearing the inevitable mini glaciers of snow and ice that will arrive any day now.

Maybe down on 35th Street they don’t have this problem, but just a few blocks away I sure do! Every year I slip on un-shoveled winter sidewalks. Most years there is at least one ugly fall that ends with a bent knee, a twisted ankle, or a very literal pain in the ass. These buffalos may look threatening, and they may not be Raymer’s neighbors’ idea of art, but it’s hard to imagine they were really offending anyone. It’s the coming ice age that may do us all in.

To see more of Jeremy Raymer’s work, check him out on Instagram @jeremyMraymer.