The small town of Robertsport has many spectacular sites as the main road divides the landscape with a hill of jungle on one side and the ocean on the other. Many deceptively beautiful buildings are dotted along the street with each adding a little more charm to the town. Wandering along the road we came across an old ruin that attracted our attention. With an isolated forward-facing wall and a raw feel we were sure we found the next site for The Liberia Project.

There is something compelling about matching an artist with a wall, the local team thrived on selecting a suitable pairing. After looking through our reference photos, they settled on Conor Harrington’s unique approach as a flawless fit. But, they were very aware of the fact that his complex style could prove challenging for a team of Liberian surfers who have little experience with a paintbrush.

With a cautious approach, they began by pencilling the outline of the projected portrait once the sun was set. They became conscious of the magnitude of the task ahead when they inspected the work the next day. So, the decision was made to recreate the piece in the same manner as Conor Harrington, paint by instinct. That is not to say they knew what they were doing, but they just grabbed brushes and got stuck in with an optimistic attitude. After hours of brush strokes, the basic foundation of the portrait appeared and the town took notice to query the meaning of the nameless figure. 

As locals walked by, we could hear them suddenly drop into deep discussion about the meaning. There was something uplifting about listening to Liberian children on their way to school deconstruct the painting and dispute if the “man was crying” or not. The world of art critics often analyse Conor’s ability to “fuse realist figurative work" with "abstract graffiti". But, they regularly overlook what happens the viewer. His paintings have the power to provoke an overwhelming sense of emotion. It pulls on certain strings and draws a reaction from the onlooker. It has the potential to summon emotions and experiences that were long since forgotten. The evolving portrait seemed to inspire bystanders to share stories while debating the significance of the painting.

The team became aware of every drop of paint and brush stroke as the portrait progressed. They became conscious of their mistakes and strived for precision. They studied the reference image and planned the next stroke. But, at the same time, they savoured the freedom of pouring layers of paint to watch how the piece would transform. In saying all of that, there was probably as much time spent debating the next move as putting paint on the wall.

A few days later, the team signalled they were finished and the piece was ready for review. A crowd gathered once the team stepped back to evaluate their work. So, what was the result of painting a Conor Harrington piece in Liberia? A lot in fact. As we looked around the crowd, there was no sense of inequality, no division or status barrier. Elderly women shared their appreciation with young schoolboys as they rubbed their fingers along the layers of paint. This was a community gathered together to value a painting. They didn’t come with any stigma around "street art", they were able to look at it for what it was, art.

 Conor Harrington Liberia Project Img 1


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Images: Alpanso Appleton + Apartial