Some Lexington Montessori High School students have created a highway to Hell.
A group of Montessori High School students taking a “History of Punk” class recently painted a mural of famous punk-rocker Richard Hell outside of J. Gumbo’s restaurant near downtown Lexington. The mural appears in the alley to the left of the restaurant, where customers can go out the side door to view the three paintings.
After taking the class, the students learned that Hell is from Lexington. They wanted to do something to commemorate him and his years dedicated to the punk industry.
“In conjunction with our studies, we did this mural of Richard Hell who is a Lexington native,” teacher Ariana Oppegard said. “There were about eight of our students working on the mural and I think it was a really great experience.”
Oppegard told J. Gumbo’s owner, Robbie Morgan, about the students’ interest in creating a mural and honoring Hell in his home city. Morgan then contacted Oppegard telling her there was an open space next to her restaurant. Soon after, the project began.
“Ariana is awesome,” Morgan said. “I have full faith in her intentions for this mural.”
The mural consists of three parts. Toward the left there are two profiles of Hell, and on the far right is a large quote from Hell’s autobiography titled, “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp.”
“This was in Lexington, Ky. when everybody was a kid,” the quote reads. “I looked for caves and birds and ran away from home. My favorite thing to do was run away. The words ‘let’s run away’ still sounds magical to me.”
Caileigh Kolasa was one of the eight students working on the mural. After learning about all the punk artists, she saw this as an important experience for her and her classmates.
“We spent two weeks just listening to different punk music and watching documentaries,” Kolasa said. “Just learning about the fashion and the music, and when I went into it I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. But at the end of it, it was really, really fun.”
Kolasa painted a major portion of the middle portrait of Hell. She will be attending SCAD in Savannah, Georgia this fall.
The class was assisted by freelance artists Kiptoo Tarus and Dani Greene. The pair often do freelance work around Lexington, and when approached by Oppegard to help create the mural, were eager to start work. They saw it as an opportunity to teach the students, many of whom will be attending arts schools, how to deal with a hands on art project such as this.
“We thought it was a great opportunity for the students to bring in a visual arts experience and to show the students how they can be involved in their next career,” Tarus said.
Oppegard and the class received donations from the community. DecoArt, a Kentucky paint company, donated all of the paints.
The students, Tarus and Greene began painting in late May. Though they’ve spent many days outside the restaurant working, recent weather has prevented finishing touches.
Hell is best known for his participation in early punk bands such as Neon Boys, Television and Heartbreakers. Manager of the Sex Pistols Malcom McLaren has also stated that the Sex Pistols’ look and attitude can be credited to inspiration from Hell and his style. He also formed Richard Hell & the Voidoids.
The unveiling of the mural is expected to be on July 5 as part of North Limestone Night Market. J Gumbo’s will celebrate with a punk-themed night.