Bridgeport artist Liz Squillace creates art for public viewing
From outdoor stairs with a pastel-colored graphic design to an underground walkway mural highlighting the change of seasons and local landmarks, artist Liz Squillace has left her mark on Fairfield County through public art.
“Everyone sees public art, not just those who go to galleries and museums,” she said. “People feel a sense of ownership. It becomes part of the landscape and brightens up your day.”
Squillace has painted multiple utility boxes along streets in Stamford and Bridgeport, creating designs from a Crayola crayon box to plug-in electrical outlet. She started the grassroots campaign to transform utility boxes into works of art in Stamford, continuing that process in Bridgeport.
She’s been involved in public art projects at Bridgeport’s railroad station, Barnum Museum and an I-95 downtown underpass.
Her colorful pattern on the highly-visible, outdoor Broad Street Steps, which connect Bridgeport’s City Hall area with the central business district below, is traversed by hundreds of people every day.
She received a Regional Initiative art grant and worked with the city and Bridgeport Generation Now, a social action organization, on the project. Her goal was to come up with something “bright and uplifting.”
She completed many sketches in advance and used a grid system “so I would know where each color would go. That was the key to making it work, especially when you look at it from a distance.”
Squillace, 42, grew up in Trumbull and lives in Bridgeport. In addition to her public art, she does paintings, screen prints, designs T-shirts and paints murals for private clients.
According to her website, her work “bridges the gap between gallery art and street art, making it accessible to everyone.”
She said public art can positively influence “the mood of a community” by uplifting residents and visitors, reflecting the culture and boosting economic development.
“It’s invigorating,” she said of a community filled with public art. “It’s the place you want to be, where things are happening.”
While growing up, Squillace’s interest in art was encouraged by teachers and her mother enrolled her in outside art classes.
After graduation from Trumbull High in 1995, she attended college at the Rhode Island School of Design. “It was paradise,” she said. “Totally focused on art — all day long, in all different ways — and I met so many great people.”
She then worked at an art gallery, was the display artist for a record store, and painted home murals as a decorative painter’s assistant. She started her own business, Paradox Ink, in 2002.
Twelve years ago, Squillace moved to an artist housing complex in the former Read’s Department Store in downtown Bridgeport. “Big space, high ceilings, modern amenities and I love being with other artists,” she said.
She maintains an art studio and storefront in an adjacent historic retail building.
Lately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s been painting and doing embroidery art — a newer interest — even more than usual. “I think the biggest impact is that I feel freer to work on my own art, rather than commercial work,” Squillace said.
Her focus on “more personal artistic expression” may continue, she said, “as everything is called into question now. With a pandemic that threatens life, we must dig deep to figure out what is important.”
Making a living as a full-time artist is not easy. “It’s the same as for everyone else — you have to cover the bills,” she said. “But there’s nothing more I’d rather do. There’s flexibility and I’m able to control my own time.”
It helps to be involved in a wide variety of art forms like she is, Squillace said.
Artists in general need more financial help and support systems from society, she said. “It should be looked at like any other profession,” she said.
Squillace sells her graphic design T-shirts, “putting together imagery and words,” on the Internet and through collaborations with various clients. For instance, an event organizer might ask her to attend a gathering to print and sell T-shirts.
Her screen printing involves putting a picture — such as industrial landscapes and power lines — on material like cloth or canvas. This can be reproduced in various colors, and lately she’s been embroidering the final pieces with strings and yarn to add what she calls “another realm of art-making.”
Her 180-foot-long mural in the pedestrian tunnel at the Bridgeport train station combines arrows, seasonal images, local scenes and bright colors. It took more than two months to complete in 2012 — interrupted by Hurricane Sandy — and was funded through a City Canvas Grant.
While traveling in Europe, she painted a utility box at an Amsterdam campground where she stayed. Her design included an Amsterdam map and Dutch flag.
She participated in the copyist program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which allows artists to develop artwork through intimate study of The Met’s galleries. She’s a member of Stamford’s Loft Artists Association.
Squillace often spends time researching and applying for public art grants. In particular, she hopes to secure funding so she can devise design ideas for more road underpasses.
“It’s a lot of writing but good practice even if you don’t get the grant,” she said. “The process helps you solidify ideas.”
To view more of Liz Squillace’s art, visit ParadoxInk.com.