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Artists give Allston house Western exposure

A shot of the progress being made on one wall of the house at 273 Western Ave. Jeremy Fraga

A few months ago, if you found yourself meandering through Allston, you would be forgiven for strolling right past the house at 273 Western Ave. Two stories tall and painted a dull white, the house was about the definition of nondescript.

That little building had a secret destiny, though — it was actually a canvas in waiting. Walk by it now and you’ll see an explosion of colors, with vibrant oranges and purples and greens swirling and curving around the exterior. Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn have turned the place into an art installation, a bright spot among the browns and grays of the rest of the neighborhood.

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The duo took over the structure after being contacted by the Zone 3 Initiative, a Harvard-led coalition that aims to reinvigorate the Western Avenue corridor in Allston. The artists’ mission was simple: Make the house an eye-catcher in whatever way they see fit.

Unterhalter and Truhn have abundant experience with public art. Their handiwork has been featured in locations from Hawaii to Russia. But they never quite had the freedom that this job has allowed.

“This project is awesome, we’ve never gotten the opportunity to take over an entire house and get to wrap around all four sides and the roof,” said the pair via e-mail. “This has basically been a dream project for us.”

They started painting on May 8. Pretty much every day since they’ve been out there, operating boom lifts and bringing the place to life. “We strive to create a big splash with our public murals,” they said. “We think of our paintings a lot like music. They are abstract and intuitive.”

For Unterhalter and Truhn, carrying out the artistic process in public is just as important as the final product, especially since the finished house will be embedded within the neighborhood. “We want the people and community to feel a sense of ownership and pride over the work, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones living with it,” they said.

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Passersby, understandably intrigued, haven’t been shy about stopping and chatting with the artists. According to Unterhalter and Truhn, people have shared their memories, stories, and opinions about the area, giving the duo a crash course on Allston.

Unterhalter and Truhn don’t just want to hear from their neighbors. They want their help in putting the artwork together. That’s why they’ve hosted one community workshop at the house already, with plans for another Wednesday night. The hope is that by the end of the workshops, Allston residents and the artists will have “collaboratively design[ed] and executed a mural together” that will adorn a wall of the house.

There’s still work to be done. The pair collected 3,000 beer cans and they’re planning on cutting them up and making a mosaic in addition to the murals. After that though, work should be wrapping up, with a final unveiling on June 2 from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Unterhalter and Truhn promise food trucks, music, and a photo shoot.

But don’t sweat it if you’re busy that day, as the project will be up for the foreseeable future according to the artists. “People are encouraged to start dance parties and take selfies in front of it.”


Alex Frandsen can be reached at alexander.frandsen@globe.com.

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