We Were Wild: Interview with Risa Friedman and Meredith Feniak

By Sarah Mills

We Were Wild's paste ups celebrate often overlooked urban architecture, mostly from the metro Denver area. Scenes that we might pass in our everyday lives - our alleys, homes and businesses - are elevated and honored. The changes and development happening in our city today are combined with Denver's history through the use of calico fabrics, which represent the Western Movement. Mixing the paper image (parts of our work are printed on Tyvek for stability) and the dimensionality and movement of fabric, We Were Wild creates whimsical, interactive street art installations.

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Tell us What We Were Wild is and how it started?

We met through Denver’s art scene, and instantly saw that our aesthetic, although expressed differently, was actually quite similar. We both love when nature and architecture intersect, finding beauty in hidden and unexpected places, public art, and collage. Our desire to create work accessible outside of galleries meant street art was a natural fit.

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Where do you draw inspiration from?

We realized that we often notice the same urban details, stopping at the same time to take a closer look. For We Were Wild, these moments always involve architecture - ranging from busy demolition sites to quiet corners where nature is slowly peeling away paint and coming up through cracks. Our favorite sites are often aging but have strong lines, color and texture. We are drawn to places that are usually overlooked despite being located in heavily trafficked areas.

Once we begin the process of printing and collaging elements, the images become imaginary habitats for flora and fauna with working doors and windows and folded fabric curtains. As children, we both made doll clothing and built dollhouses. We are reminded of those days when working among piles of architectural images and fabrics in the studio.

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What mediums do you typically work in for this project?

Photos printed on regular paper and Tyvek (to make the parts of the paste ups that open, such as windows and doors, more durable) combined with fabric and haberdashery make up our collaged paste-ups. We use traditional wheat paste or a gel medium when we want them to last longer.

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How do you decide where to paste your work?

Other wheat paste artists taught us about the “rules” of street art. We paste on dumpsters, and temporary walls/windows that are already partially covered with bills. We also paste on private walls where the owners give us permission or request a piece. Part of our practice includes not covering up other people’s art and tags. 

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What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?

We want to help viewers see everyday places in a new way - to notice color, lines, and textures they might have missed in the past, but in a fun and whimsical way. This is why we cut up the photos and often collage them back together in unexpected combinations. Art should be more accessible, so we bring art to the people on the streets and invite them to physically touch our pieces, opening the doors and windows and feel the texture of the fabrics. We are especially excited to see children discover that our street art is interactive.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this project?

Both of us, a photographer and artist/illustrator, had to adjust to the fact that we do not have control over the final outcome. Whether it is the fact that there are two of us making decisions in the collaboration, altering the layout to complement cracks in the wall, pieces blowing away in the wind, or pieces being ripped away, we have learned to love the fleeting nature of the initial idea, its execution, and eventual destruction of the installations.  Once we were able to fully accept this, we saw that it fit with our initial concept of appreciating the wildness of both manmade and natural constructions.


What is the best piece of advice you have for an artist looking to utilize public spaces in their work?

There’s always an element of unknown when you work in public spaces. We’ve learned to appreciate the need to improvise as we don’t know exactly how a wall’s texture will change our piece or exactly how much room there will be to paste or how the weather might change how quickly the glue dries. We’ve also learned to not get too attached to each piece. Who knows how long a piece will last before somebody tags it or rips it or the colors begin to fade. We give each piece to the public and then it takes on a life of its own. That’s the beauty of street art; it can be fleeting and pieces often change quickly. There’s a constant collaboration with the weather and animals and residents and other street artists.