Illustrating Manayunk one person at a time

Artist Mat Tomezsko recently undertook a project in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Manayunk Development Corporation to reflect the historical and contemporary feel of Manayunk through a series of street art paintings. Many of these pieces line Main Street in this North Philly area and reside at eye-level so passersby start to notice the connections as they stroll around town.

The compositions of Tomezsko’s paintings are both straightforward and personal. Every one contains a couple elements: an individual figure and a design-heavy background, most often in bright, multicolored hues. Some of the people seem to notice you and acknowledge your presence. Others go about their business as strangers. A few of them smile, some look forlorn and others appear completely distracted. The element that ties them all together, however, is that they all are or were residents of Manayunk at some point in time. Many are photographs of locals taken by Tomezsko himself.

Tomezsko Woman

As far as the backgrounds go, the vaguely Frank Stella-esque patterns are derived from the arches of the Manayunk bridge. Tomezsko aimed to abstract the local architecture of the bridge while also playing with subtle degrees of asymmetry. The bold swaths of color do well to isolate and emphasize the figures in these paintings, while also deploying a strong degree of consistency and visual zest.

Tomezsko Phillies

Text elements also make an appearance in a number of these images. The words themselves are lyrics from a 1935 song by Ann Gallagher, the organist for St. John the Baptist Church. Tomezsko took these verses and reorganized them a bit in order to derive new and different interpretations, while referencing a historical tune about the area. Some lines specifically mention or praise Manayunk, while others describe its hilly topography and often-curvy roads.

Tomezsko Kid

Snapshots of people and painterly explorations alike, these works serve to illustrate a diverse and unique town outside of bustling Center City Philadelphia. They likely elicit nostalgia for longtime residents and construct a multidimensional foothold for those who are less familiar with the area. Whatever emotions or ideas they conjure for visitors or locals, Tomezsko’s series is definitely a smart, pointed and colorful exploration of Manayunk — both past and present.