The iconic Blagden Alley “LOVE” muralist talks the motivation behind painting the world a rainbow.
Lisa Marie Thalhammer wants to paint the world a rainbow. The artist responsible for the iconic “LOVE” mural in D.C.’s Blagden Alley, Thalhammer was inspired by people’s response to her work. After the mural was completed in August 2017, residents and visitors flocked to the alley for creative photo shoots.
“They used the work as a way to convey their own positive messages of love and joy and acceptance,” Thalhammer says.
After the hype continued for two years, Thalhammer came up with the idea to do a rainbow tour of the United States, painting “LOVE” murals in all states and territories. It was the end of 2019, so we all know what’s coming — the Covid-19 pandemic put a temporary hold on her plans.
“But I think now’s a really good time,” Thalhammer says. “Every four years, we spend so much time dividing our country into red and blue states that we often forget we’re united — people of all different colors.”
The “LOVE” Mural Tour kicked off last month in St. Petersburg, Florida with a mural painted on the side of The Body Electric Yoga Company.
Though Thalhammer’s vision is country-wide, her artistic story really started in D.C. You can see her work all over the place: Notables include the “TOGETHER” mural inspired by the Women’s March on 9th Street Northwest; “DC 51” on Pennsylvania Avenue in Georgetown; and, of course, “Boxer Girl,” which, when it was painted in 2009, started major conversations about public art in neighborhoods — especially rainbow art.
“It’s pretty cool to see the cultural shift towards acceptance and being a champion of equity,” Thalhammer says.
During Pride Month, we see rainbows on businesses everywhere, but some stick around longer — metaphorically and literally. In 2019, Thalhammer worked with Stoli Vodka to create a label that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
“That was really cool, because it’s a business that’s not just slapping a rainbow on something,” Thalhammer says. “They’re really trying to tell the story of LGBTQ history.”
As an artist and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Thalhammer says she wants to authentically represent the stories of her people, and so her work goes deeper than creating murals for photo ops or advertisements.
“I think the more authentic people can be, the more you’re coming to Pride Month with real love in your heart,” Thalhammer says. “While yes, LGBTQ issues is a cornerstone of the messaging, [the mural] also speaks to a broader message of acceptance.”
Thalhammer considers the colors of her murals carefully. The 13 colors used in the “LOVE” mural are inspired by the chakra centers of the body according to yoga theory.
“I see the colors like the human flag, where we are respectful of all our lives and intersections,” Thalhammer says. “Every human wants to be loved. There’s no one on the planet who doesn’t have some inkling of understanding that feeling.”
To reach the humans who want to be loved in different U.S. locations, Thalhammer has help. She is in the process of identifying ambassadors in different states to help connect the dots for the “LOVE” Mural Tour — finding the perfect location, funding for the project and involving the community. Born in, as Thalhammer puts it, the “American heartland” of St. Louis, Missouri, she understands that love looks different in all places, so she makes sure to understand how her ambassadors view the concept and how that resonates with the larger community in each location.
“I feel like our ‘why’ is so important,” she says. “Like what is motivating us? What’s the point — why rainbows on walls?”
Thalhammer draws on color therapy to create a balanced, harmonious color spectrum in each “LOVE” piece. Fittingly, the “LOVE” mural in Connecticut, slated for June of this year, is sponsored by Mental Health Connecticut.
“A lot of us struggle with depression or loneliness,” Thalhammer says. “Especially LGBTQ people — we’re at a much higher rate of having mental health issues. So, when you go to the rainbow walls, you feel better and uplifted emotionally and spiritually. These colors have a physical, mental and emotional effect upon our energy fields.”
Thalhammer sells canvas versions of the “LOVE” mural in all different color spectrums to address different needs in viewers. One features a spectrum of yellow and gold — representing the solar plexus chakra and self-confidence.
“When you’re needing self-confidence and personal power, gold and yellow are the colors you want to surround yourself with,” she says.
Another painting focuses on teal colors, which Thalhammer says represent speaking from the heart. Another had peaches, creams, tans and browns — an ode to the colors of all people.
Thalhammer, a survivor of intimate partner abuse, says her mission goes deeper.
“I’m on a mission to understand self-love,” she says. “It’s really a healing journey that I’ve gone through, and it’s helped to see that relating to so many people. And now, we take it to the street.”
Check out more of Thalhammer’s work at lisamariestudio.com and follow her on Instagram @lisamariestudio. See the artist in action at Art Out Loud on June 3, an official Capital Pride event hosted by District Fray and Selina Union Market & Cowork. Register here.
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