Rich Howells

Title Fight’s Wilkes-Barre mural may be covered by billboard as fans try to save ‘Hyperview’ artwork

Title Fight’s Wilkes-Barre mural may be covered by billboard as fans try to save ‘Hyperview’ artwork
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

In 2014, Kingston punk/shoegaze band Title Fight worked with their friend and album cover artist John Slaby to create a reflective mural on the side of a building on South Main Street in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Located near the former Cafe Metro, a venue they often played with other breakout local bands like The Menzingers and Tigers Jaw, the geometric painting not only became the cover of their 2015 album “Hyperview” on Anti- Records, but it is also a striking piece of public artwork that fans from across the country have come to visit.

Just seven years later, however, it may become just another billboard in a city that seems to be forgetting its musical history.

On July 16, pictures started popping up online of the mural covered by metal brackets and black strips that appear to be ready to hold a large sign. As word spread, one fan’s public Facebook post summed up the general consensus on social media well.

“This is fucking lame. Wilkes-Barre doesn’t have many murals or much art through out the city. Title Fight is one of the most important bands to ever come from this area. John Slaby put in the hard work and absolutely crushed it with this mural. People from all around the country have visited Wilkes-Barre to take pics in front of the mural that highlights the creativity of the community. This beautiful art and attraction to the city I love is gonna get blasted over with some bullshit paid advertisement,” Tyler Kennedy said.

Many turned their ire to the city of Wilkes-Barre, but Holly Pilcavage, the CEO of Wilkes-Barre creative agency Coal Creative and an advocate for small businesses and creatives in the area, reached out to Mayor George Brown and Larry Newman, executive director of Downtown Wilkes-Barre/Diamond City Partnership, to make them aware of the situation and found out that the city has little to do with it.

“The Title Fight mural at 91 S. Main Street was installed by the band on the side wall of a privately-owned building, so its existence is governed by whatever the agreement was between the band, the artist, and the building’s owner – not by anything that the city of Wilkes-Barre does or says. I realize that the mural is very meaningful to many people, but if there was no agreement in place that committed the building owner to preserve the artwork, then unfortunately, it exists at his pleasure,” Newman said.

Title Fight drummer Ben Russin shared his thoughts on the mural today with NEPA Scene.

“Obviously it’s discouraging to see that the mural John Slaby painted seven years ago has plans to be covered. However, we still don’t know many details about the situation. We’re not sure if the dentist office that the wall belongs to decided to rent the wall for ad revenue or if they simply decided to put something else up. And of course we don’t know the permanence of whatever will be taking its place. The facts are still hazy,” he explained.

“The purpose of the ‘Hyperview’ mural was to create artwork that would then become interactive and essentially belong to the public. In that regard, it was very successful. The amount of people who have traveled to the wall over the years is incredible. This outpouring to save it is heartwarming as well.

“We hope it can be saved, or at the least preserved and displayed again at some point further down the line. If its time is up, I hope that it motivates someone else in the area to create a piece of visual art that can be visited for years to come. Hopefully the city and our community will work hard to support future local artists’ endeavors because the arts are too often overlooked in our area.”

Title Fight formed in 2003 and rose from local favorites to international fame with three acclaimed studio albums, two on SideOneDummy, “Shed” (2011) and “Floral Green” (2012), and one on Anti- Records, “Hyperview,” which peaked at No. 78 on the Billboard 200 and No. 4 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. They received praise from major media outlets like NPR, Spin, and Pitchfork, and Vogue as they toured the world with bands like Rise Against, Balance and Composure, and Touché Amoré and even hit the main stage of Vans Warped Tour, among other notable festival appearances. Since then, the group has gone on hiatus to live life and focus on other projects, like bassist/vocalist Ned Russin’s post-punk solo work under the name Glitterer, and the young musicians have only played sporadic shows together in the last few years, such as a benefit with Turnstile in 2018, though demand remains high for them to reunite.

Slaby declined to comment for this article, but he discussed the creative process behind the mural in a 2014 video directed by guitarist Shane Moran.

“Our main goal was to have something interactive with an element of discovery that’s as accessible as possible to the public here in our downtown. The simple imagery is kind of a gateway or a portal into experiencing the capabilities of the reflective background,” he said.

“I grew up around here and I remember discovering all these little pockets of the city. As I add new context to these places and get older and experience life outside of Wilkes-Barre, my original views sort of seem to transform or change. This project is kind of based around that feeling.”

Over the past few days, fans have been using platforms like Reddit to petition to save the mural as photos of its current state continue to circulate online.

“Culture being steamrolled in favor of advertising is about as apt a representation of our priorities and values as I can think of at the moment. Yet the best defenses against this type of myopic bullshitter-y have always sprung from the community,” Esta Coda and A Fire With Friends vocalist/guitarist Dan Rosler said.

“One could hate this band and still respect their significance. One could dislike the mural yet respect the artist. I mean, isn’t it kind of beautiful that a group of people from our immediate area (which they always credited with every performance) began here and then proceeded to touch lives all around the world, so much so that people from all over have traveled to see the mural here that’s about to be plastered over?

“If you have ways of generating noise about this, let me know. I would like to see this stopped and the art preserved.”

See NEPA Scene’s photos from Title Fight’s “Hyperview” record release show at the Gallery of Sound in Wilkes-Barre back in 2015 here and stay tuned for updates on this current story.