Faded, crumbling, unlikely to survive too many more DC winters or 14th Street-area renovations, I love this mural. It raises a million questions.
From the perch of an old row house wall overlooking the Swan Auto parking lot, emerging from a pool? pond? ocean?—two Dr. Seuss-like figures—humans? balding angels? fruit flies?—share a fading yellow apple. Lips locked on the fruit, their eyes are closed passionately. One wears a small bejeweled crown, but otherwise they appear naked. They are LOVERS, says the painting in simple black font, a status reinforced by the word “madreselva” painted in upside-down and backwards letters below. Madreselva means honeysuckle in Spanish, a flower that is supposedly associated with “the bond of love,” or according to other sources, “generosity.” Either way, we are getting a sneak peek at two individuals’ affection through this mustard yellow, circular window…. Or is it a puzzle piece? (What are those little nodes around the frame?)
The ocean, the apple, their nakedness; that the left figure’s wings? body? appear to fit the curves of the water perfectly—not quite drawn from dust, but certainly drawn from nature… all allude to Adam and Eve. But these figures are completely androgynous. Or at least, not male and female. An ode to homosexuality, then, maybe? But especially with the crown in the picture, their relationship is unclear.
Sadly, it might stay that way for a while.
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has no record of the mural in its database, as it was not a publicly-commissioned piece, says Deirdre Ehlen of the Commission. (Though, notably, the organization operates an ever-growing website that continuously maps public art and allows viewers to share information on anonymous or otherwise cryptic pieces.) Robert Gamzeh, a realtor who handles some of the adjacent properties, could not speak to the mural’s history. Mark Johnson, co-owner of the Hunted House vintage furniture store (part of the same complex), only knows that it has been there since as long as he can remember. Maybe two decades, he says.
All photos by the author.