Raphaella Brice and Josie Bunnell Join Forces to Create Mural Celebrating Juneteenth
Raphaella Brice and Josie Bunnell, Generator Artists-in-Residence alumni, have teamed up to create a public mural for the BCA’s 2022 Juneteenth celebration. Combining Raphaella’s digital artistry and Josie’s vinyl printing expertise, the mural represents a month of labor, collaboration and design. Selected in May and installed on June 15th, their bright holographic mural depicts Black Mother Mary and Christ, a reflection of Raphaella’s Haitian and Catholic roots, and a celebration of Black reclamation of traditional Catholic imagery. The mural takes up the South-facing exterior of the Fletcher Free Library in downtown Burlington and is a testament to Generator’s project potential: collaborative across discipline, rooted in community, and celebratory of underrepresented voices.
Read on to learn more about their process, their inspiration for the piece, and to see how this project came to life.
Raphaella Brice is a self-described cultural and digital psychedelic artist, with vibrant digital drawings and trippy pieces characterizing her work. The daughter of an artist, she grew up around the creative process and has enjoyed a fierce rekindling of artistry over the last few years. After studying dance and creative writing at Manhattanville College, she pursued travel writing before Covid interrupted those opportunities. With life on pause, Raphaella found purpose once again through her art. A crash course in Adobe Illustrator during a computer graphics course at Manhattanville had sparked her love for digital design. The accessibility and creative potential of the medium allowed Raphaella to create a piece or more each day, beginning with recreations of her friends, but soon graduating into original pieces and psychedelic reconstructions of traditional imagery. Raphaella joined Generator as a volunteer in 2021 and recalls Jim Shield’s transformative laser cutting training as a critical moment of realization that her digital pieces could be vibrantly translated from the screen into the tactile world. As she saw it: “I didn’t think it was possible for my digital pieces to come to life as they did.” This revelation unlocked a world of possibility, and Raphaella chased down all opportunities to bring her digital work to life. With support from Rebecca Schwarz and Meg Hammond, she pursued the artist-in-residence program and was accepted in December of 2021. With the dedicated space and materials, her digital work reached new levels. The chance to apply for BCA’s Juneteenth mural was the next step in her creative journey, and her application was accepted on May 15th. The mural’s image was designed by Raphaella.
Josie Bunnell began her artistry at home in small-town New Jersey, re-drawing photographs and diddling in design. Small town meant an even smaller art community, so it wasn’t until her time at Bennington College that she discovered the breadth of artistic community and creative opportunities available to her. Josie quickly found and fell in love with printmaking and began working in press shops, designing her own prints and honing her craft. When she moved to Burlington in 2020, Covid had rendered in-person printing virtually impossible, so Generator’s laser cutter provided one of the only chances for her to continue creating. With support and expertise from Generator members she had just met, Josie designed and built a printing press, and began laser-cutting wood block presses to print. Since then, Josie has thrown herself into the Generator community, acting as a liaison between Champlain College and Generator, becoming an artist-in-residence and leading Generator’s laser cutter shop. Her most recent creative focus is on capturing the power of light. As an avid astronomer, Josie’s art and designs seek to reflect light’s power, and her colorways and materials look to collect and reproduce its vibrance. Josie led the vinyl printing portion of the mural construction.
Although divergent in the mediums, Raphaella and Josie connected immediately. Their complementary skill sets and artistic trajectories made a partnership and friendship inevitable. A conversation in early January of 2022 about the course of their respective artistic careers revealed that they both saw an opportunity to bring light and color into the Generator space and in the last five weeks they have done just that. The pair have filled Generator with their vibrant colors and bubbly laughter, and have welcomed members, friends and staff into their creative process. As Raphaella puts it, and the Generator staff concur: “It has been magical.”
The image depicted in the mural is a fusion of Raphaella’s lived experiences as a Catholic Haitian, and a celebration of Black liberation and reclamation. Working with the BCA’s theme of a love story, Raphaella chose to portray the story of universal love between Mother Mary and Jesus. She sees herself in both figures, as “an old soul with the energy of a kid,” but also seeks to represent the power yet undeniable self-sacrifice involved with bringing another being into the world. Given the pervasiveness of these figures and their deep connection to colonial legacies, the mural represents a reclamation for Black Haitians of these symbols, and the confluence of pain, religion and liberation which they often represent. Raphaella’s colorful and psychedelic flair also adds color and movement to this traditional image, bringing it to life and celebrating the liberation of Haitians and Black Americans.
Timeline, Process, & Collaboration
The first week of the mural process was spent breaking the digital design into various pieces, so the vinyl cutter could print and cut out the shapes which formed the image. These shapes were then layered onto one of six massive aluminum panels, the base of the 16ft by 12ft mural. Raphaella and Josie spent the last weeks refining the image, adding layers and accenting the design.
Given Raphaella’s limited experience working with vinyl, it was Josie who spearheaded the vinyl process. When asked about what it was like to hand over her design, Raphaella said: “Honestly, I just trusted her. As artists it is so easy to get stuck in your individual niche or style, but collaborating with Josie helped me realize that my vision could be brought to life in a style that was not mine.”
Their process was full of discovery, including the addition of a holographic layer of vinyl to the background, which has become one of its defining characteristics. With no rigid format, Raphaella and Josie found space to innovate. As Raphaella put it: “We were constantly discovering new things as we worked on the mural.” For Josie, this collaboration allowed her to avoid the self-doubt that she often feels creeps into longer-term projects: “I didn’t have the same attachment or self-doubt that comes with making my own art. My main thought was ‘how are we going to execute this properly.” And execute they did.
Although Raphaella and Josie were responsible for the design and execution of the mural, they were supported by the community, tools and space at Generator. They both recognized Elliott Katz, Operations & Facilities Director, as critical in helping them navigate the application and proposal process, as well as helping them strike a balance between their art and the parameters designated by BCA. Generator’s vinyl cutter, Adobe software and Flexspace, allowed for a creative space complete with the tools necessary to bring the mural to life. As Raphaella noted: “To have a space which honors the creative process has been amazing.” The energy and scale of the project also attracted the attention of Generator members involved in their own projects, whose curiosity and excitement was always welcomed by the pair.
As for what comes next, art and creation will remain central for Raphaella and Josie. For Josie, making will be a priority: “My goals are to make sure I fit time into every day, or even every week, to being creative and making art so I can continue to grow as an artist.” And as for the duo, Raphaella and Josie are clear that this is only the beginning. As Raphaella sees it: “Now that we know we can do this, we are definitely gonna go do it again!”