Samantha Neukirch with her finished mural after installation Nov. 16 in the children's playground at Grangebel Park. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Life gets in the way of art sometimes.

That’s what happened this year to Samantha Neukirch, who intended to install the mural she created for JumpstART 2015 in time for the August event in downtown Riverhead. She also planned for a bigger mural than the one that was installed on the wall of the comfort station inside the children’s playground this morning.

It was a good way for the young artist to celebrate her birthday — she turns 23 today.

A lot of personal “stuff” intervened to prevent Neukirch from getting the mural ready in time for the Aug. 8 JumpstART event, she said. While she didn’t exactly plan to do the installation on her birthday, “it’s kind of fitting.” Her longtime mentor and teacher, Jeffrey K. Fisher, passed away on this date last year. His name and that of another beloved teacher are listed on plaque mounted to the corner of the mural, “BLUE.EXE,” which is dedicated to their memory.

Both men taught the Smithtown resident the importance of perseverance in an artist’s life, and that’s exactly why “BLUE.EXE” is now installed in downtown Riverhead.

“BLUE.EXE,” depicts local marine life in thousands of colorful pixels. The brightly colored mural was created entirely on a laser printer. The printed images were then applied to two four- by 12-foot boards, then topped with several protective coatings. The boards were installed on the building the morning by Riverhead Town buildings and grounds crew members Guy Cawley and Scott Sulzer, with the assistance of Neukirch’s boyfriend, Joe Arias.

Both Neukirch and Arias were overjoyed to see the mural up on the wall, celebrating with a big hug when it was all done.

“We’ve been staring at it in pieces for months now,” the artist said.

“It was a lot of work,” said Arias, who assisted Neukirch with the process. In all, about 100 hours worth, he estimated.

“I had to fully embrace the limitations of using a computer to create this,” Neukirch said. That included a defective laser printer that produced streaky images and inconsistent color density — it was returned for a warranty repair, Arias added — as well as the space limitations of the 11- by 14-inch paper the images were printed on. The pages were then cut to be taped together to create the images of sea turtles, shark and sea lions.

While the method and subject of “BLUE.EXE” are not directly related to the figure drawing classes she took with Fisher and Sipley, both artists tremendously influenced Neukirch’s creative process, taught her to stretch herself and taught her the importance of practicing her craft.

“Being an artist is really like being an athlete,” she said. “If you don’t practice and go to the gym, you’ll only go so far.”

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