Exploring the intersection of graffiti and metal arts at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
Industrial Grit and Graffiti
About Industrial Grit and Graffiti
In the decades following the collapse of big steel, the Carrie Furnaces became a laboratory for experimentation—a time on the site when graffiti writers crossed paths with urban explorers, scrappers, and sculptors who recognized the latent creative potential in abandoned mills.
Through a variety of arts initiatives, Rivers of Steel celebrates this post-industrial era and its influence on a generation of artists and community leaders who continue the difficult work of channeling that energy into creative solutions for the community. Industrial Grit and Graffiti explores the connections to this era through the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
The 2022 Program at a Glance
In the summer of 2022, Rivers of Steel launched the Industrial Grit and Graffiti program to explore the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts at the Carrie Blast Furnaces, beginning with an artist-in-residence program led by New York-based artist Carlos Mare and Pittsburgh native Michael Walsh. Pioneers of the graffiti sculpture movement, Mare and Walsh joined three community artists onsite at the Carrie Blast Furnaces for a weeklong residency and workshop, utilizing the iron-casting process to produce new works of art that pushed their personal practices and the graffiti sculpture movement in new directions, including artworks by Mare and Walsh that are currently installed at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.
The program’s scope also connected with residents in the adjacent Monongahela Valley—communities whose character has been shaped by both their industrial and post-industrial heritage—for a variety of interactive programs for youth and adults, ranging from tours and workshops to internships and residencies. These activities, collectively called the Community Learning Series, cumulated with an artists’ talk at The Andy Warhol Museum in December of 2022.
Carlos Mare works on his foam B-Boy sculpture patterns while Conor Clark assists Michael Walsh with his mold preparations.
About the Artists
Carlos Mare, né Rodriguez, also known as Mare139, grew up between Upper Manhattan and the war-torn South Bronx; he was part of a group who revolutionized subway graffiti during its peak in the 1970s and ’80s. Combining his passion for contemporary art with graffiti style-writing, Mare began creating metal artworks inspired by his unique approach to lettering.
Artist Michael Walsh was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1974, and his career as a graffiti artist and sculptor evolved throughout the late 1980s and ’90s during the collapse of the American steel industry. He has worked diligently over the past two decades to hone his craft while forwarding the trajectory of the graffiti sculpture movement.
Conor Clarke, Joshua Krajnak and Jamie Matthews are all Pittsburgh-area artists whose artistic practices prior to the program were primarily in graffiti or sculpture, while this residency provided an opportunity to explore the intersection of the mediums through the metal-casting process.
Images of process images and completed artworks.
Community Learning Series
Community collaboration and creative learning are central to Rivers of Steel’s mission.
Industrial Grit and Graffiti manifests this approach by creating new bridges between artistic mediums and bringing together national and local artists with local communities. Coinciding with the artist residency and continuing throughout the summer and fall of 2022, the Community Learning Series included free public events, skills-building workshops, collaborative murals, educational tours, and more opportunities for local youth and adults living in communities surrounding the Carrie Blast Furnaces and the greater Pittsburgh region.
In addition to the three community artists mentioned above, three teens from Woodland Hills School District participated in a six-week summer internship. Their hands-on experiences allowed them to work with the iron- and aluminum-casting processes, along with some practice with a skilled blacksmith. After the internship, one of the students joined Rivers of Steel as a paid apprentice, joining the metal arts team that leads workshops for the public and visiting artists.
Working with a number of local artists, Rivers of Steel partnered with community stakeholders to produce five graffiti-style murals in 2022. Located in the communities of Homestead, Millvale, Rankin, and Swissvale, the murals engaged community members in the process in a variety of ways.
In Homestead, four artists worked in partnership with the owners of Golden Age Beer Company to paint their Seventh Street fence with the name of the borough during a Homestead Live Fridays event. Adding to the fun, a pop-up skate park was erected—with the help of Super Stories—and skateboarding lessons were offered free to local youth—along with gratis Millie’s ice cream and face-painting.
In Millville, Rivers of Steel partnered with the local residents to create a mural of a tree that included the community name. Similarly, two murals were created in Rankin in partnership with the Rankin Christian Center and a local businessman.
In September, in a collaboration with six artists from Boom Concepts, a new Black on Black Love mural was created along a 70-foot span of wall at the Carrie Furnaces.
Beyond the street murals, local youth were engaged through additional hands-on tours and workshops, including through partnerships with The Andy Warhol Museum’s Rust Camp and connections with the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation.
While the majority of the Industrial Grit and Graffiti program worked directly with artists, interns, and specific community partners and residents, a talk in December at The Andy Warhol Museum brought Carlos Mare and Michael Walsh back to town for a moderated conversation about their experiences leading into this residency and the impact of this type of practice. The experience offered an opportunity to unpack the post-industrial legacy of a quintessentially modern artistic exploration while also offering the public at large a chance to hear about the year’s activities.
Images of Community Learning Series activities.
Media Coverage of Industrial Grit and Graffiti
Kecia Bal, Postindustrial Magazine, December 2022
Emma Riva, Up Magazine, December 2022