New London’s new Oasis of art

Kat Burns had been up all night at the Oasis, but it's not what you think.

It was shortly after 9 a.m. this past Thursday morning, when Burns, a local artist and designer, greeted me at the door of the Oasis Pub on Bank Street in downtown New London.

"Come on in," Burns said, more sprightly than groggy despite the hour.

The bar, empty and still with an Edward Sharpe record on in the background, looked like it had hosted the birthday party at the end of world.

There were twisting broken streamers falling off the walls and several yellow and red balloons strewn across the floor.

The night before, Burns explained, there had been a vigorous going away bash for a friend, which featured performance-art party act Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt.

But she was there at that early hour because along with New London artist Chad Cocilo, she has been turning the bathroom at the Oasis into downtown's latest art installation.

She had been awake for about 30 consecutive hours working on the project and was still standing thanks to adrenaline and iced coffee. Earlier this summer, Burns, 29, a Waterford native who earned her degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2009, had become intrigued with the wooden frames and geometric patterns the Oasis owners had affixed to one of the walls of the cramped bathroom.

Burns, who is particularly passionate about three-dimensional design, said every time she went into the bathroom she thought the wooden frames were "trippy and neat."

"I had to do something with it," Burns said.

Burns' invitation to me to view the work in progress stems from a conversation we had at the Oasis a few months ago after the Whalie Awards. Burns, who interned on "Saturday Night Live," designed the impressive video production for the awards show and was receiving plenty of congratulations.

At the bar, I was joking about how one of the truly shared experiences for a New London live music fan is the unique bit of theater that is using the bathroom at the Oasis.

There's only the one, unisex restroom. There was, for a time, a second bathroom, but it was sacrificed to enlarge the stage.

If you have to use the bathroom during a show, a meandering line forms along part of the side wall. The club, which has been home base for New London's indie set for nearly a decade, is a small place and there's usually a bit of confusion over who's in line and who's watching the band.

So, then, at long last, you enter.

Those of you who go to see shows at nightclubs or bars will never confuse the bathrooms at these establishments with ones at, say, a boutique hotel.

The walls and doors at the Oasis bathroom once were covered in graffiti, with what you might expect on a restroom wall: drawings, profanity and drawings illustrating profanity.

Cocilo has since replaced the graffiti with a mural of stylized women's faces, dubbed "Downtown Party Girl."

For her part, Burns painted the wooden frames in such a way that they appear to change colors as you walk by them. Burns is worried, though, that veteran Oasis graffitists won't be able to help themselves and all their hard word will be sullied.

"We're thinking of leaving a space open for people to write on," Burns said. "We're hoping that if we turned it into art, people would be less inclined to destroy (the bathroom)."

Burns said the Oasis project, beyond creative satisfaction, holds a special meaning for her.

"I love public art, and I love that this is my spot," Burns said. "I know everybody here."

Early Friday morning I woke to find that Burns had texted me some photos of the finished bathroom, and it looks great.

Then I imagine she got some sleep.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.

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