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Randy Gilson, Randyland

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Visiting Information

Randyland is open most days during the warmer months from 1 – 7 pm, and visitors are welcome to view and explore the various displays around the property.

About the Artist/Site

Randy Gilson was one of six children of a single mother; the family occasionally experienced homelessness when he was a child. Saddened by the ascetic nature of their existence, he would troll the neighborhood looking for abandoned bicycles and broken toys that he brought home to repair, bringing them up into the house on Christmas Eve so that his home looked more like the one he saw in pictures.

In the early 1980s he moved into the tough Central North Side streets of Pittsburgh while working toward a cooking certification at the local community college. He’d fallen in love with the architecture, although many of the streets were littered with garbage and many of the buildings had seen better days. Dipping into his savings from his job as a waiter, in 1995 he put $10,000 on his credit card to purchase a three-story building with a streetside courtyard on Arch Avenue in the old Mexican War Streets district. He also spent $1000 on discarded whiskey barrels, placing them in front of his neighbors’ homes to encourage their use as planters, and began picking up the litter. On his own he planted hundreds of mini flower and vegetable gardens around the neighborhood.

Given his background, while Gilson says that he knew nothing about art or gardening, he did know how to stretch a penny, and he understood the value of recycling the cast-offs he’d find on corners and neighborhood alleyways. He used his tips to buy cans of returned paint in bright colors or planters with cracks and chips in order to supplement the found objects that he began to install in the courtyard and on the façades of the building. On one side he painted a 40-foot high mural of mountains, waterfalls, and a golden castle, adorned with cutout ladybugs and butterflies. In another area he mapped out the city of Pittsburgh itself, extending far out from downtown to showcase his own neighborhood. He wants people to visit, and to understand the diversity that makes up his city. He adorned the streets on the map with miniature models of buildings and the local attractions.

The buildings and courtyard are decorated with constructed and recuperated butterflies, swans, miniature lobsters and dinosaurs, pink plastic flamingoes and green alligators, mannequin heads, metal flowers, tiki mugs, metal porch chairs, and more. In the courtyard they are placed among low rock fences and all kinds of gardens, including succulents, firs, and flowers, set into sewer pipe planters and other recycled containers. Street and advertising signs and animal cut-outs are affixed to the upper levels of the side façade, and all windows and doors are limned with rainbow colors. Polka dots, giant tropical leaves, and stripes are standard painting treatments, and silhouetted figures of dancers and musicians make it look like as if there is a constant party going on inside; their be-bopping movements are echoed in life-size figures painted in vibrant colors onto the surrounding wooden fences.

Almost from the beginning Gilson successfully used his own efforts in an attempt to motivate his neighbors to invest in their own gardens and renovations, inspiring small streetscape and public art installations in all corners of the neighborhood. At one point, this resulted in a small grant from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, but he mostly worked on his own. (He has always accepted donations, either financial or in-kind – except for paint in “boring” colors.) However, in mid-2014 he reached out to the general public for the first time, launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to help restore the map mural with better paints and stronger materials. Up until that point, he estimated that he had invested over $100,000 of his own money on beautifying the site and, according to his own count, had himself established 850 gardens, 8 parks, and numerous artworks in both two and three dimensions.

Randyland is open most days during the warmer months from 1 – 7 pm, and visitors are welcome to view and explore the various displays around the property.

~Jo Farb Hernández

 

 



Map and site information

1501 Arch Street
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 40.457924 / -80.009755

Visiting Information

Randyland is open most days during the warmer months from 1 – 7 pm, and visitors are welcome to view and explore the various displays around the property.

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