‘The Wallpaper Artist’ Film Debuts

 ‘The Wallpaper Artist’ Film Debuts

By Dan Guarino

On Monday, February 19, the Lighthouse creative pop-up space will light up with a very unique film premiere.  There, at 7 p.m., as part of their open monthly gathering, the Rockaway Creates group will host a first-ever showing of “The Wallpaper Artist,” a documentary about Rockaway resident, entrepreneur and wall-paperer Russel Siegel.

Directed by Onel Mulet, the film will be followed by a Q&A session and short presentation by Siegel on the art of wallpapering. And it’s free. Lighthouse is located within the Coastal Market at 108-19 Rockaway Beach Drive, across from the Rockaway Hotel.

For both Siegel and Mulet, making “The Wallpaper Artist” meant breaking new ground. Both say there was a lot to explore in this short documentary, covering not only walls, but business, family, heart and soul.

After spending many happy years traversing from Brooklyn to Rockaway, Siegel finally made the plunge and moved permanently to the shore three and a half years ago. “This community,” he says, “means support, having fun, special events, connections, business, good friends who are family to me.”

“I have been in the wallpaper business for what feels like a million years,” he says. “This May will be 45 years.” Siegel is a third-generation wall treatment artist.  “My grandfather, my dad’s father, started in the painting business. He used to go to Chicago and Detroit for four to five months out of the year to paint houses. It was seasonal back then, about a hundred years ago.”

“Then my uncle got my dad into wallpaper hanging. And I worked for the largest company, Hudson Shatz, for 23 years,” and was a District Council 9, Painting and Allied Trades union member for 43 years. “I have had my own business, RLS Hanging, about twenty years now,” Siegel says.

The thing about wallpaper is it “sticks to the walls,” he laughs. It “is very durable and it can last a long time. There is wallpaper for almost any wall that you do. You can wallpaper anything!”

Wallpaper can also bring people together. “The most interesting job I did was hanging a job for my wife, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She called me for an estimate. I ended up going out with her.”  And, he adds wryly, “ended up doing 80% of her house. I guess when you are in love you would do anything!”

Like many Rockaway things, the short film on Siegel’s work and life came about from meeting people through peninsula activities, like NY Dippers Club ocean plunges and other events. Through mutual acquaintance Rockaway Creates’ Dana Humphrey, Siegel met filmmaker Onel Mulet. After spending much time here, Mulet himself recently moved to Rockaway.

While getting to know each other, “Russel approached me about making a film about his life,” Mulet says. “He’s a very interesting character who is connected to many communities. He has led a very exciting life and his career path has taken a turn. He is the only wallpaper artist I have ever met, so naturally I was fascinated!”

Mulet began as a film composer, then got involved in post-production sound design. As a media professional at BRIC (Brooklyn Information & Culture) arts/ media/educational organization, he enrolled in an intensive documentary program where he produced his first film, “Roman Diaz Como El Agua (Like Water),” about the well-known musician and composer.

His company, Romero Media, creates multiple content types for the web, short commercials, reels and clips for YouTube, including music videos and short films. “We are a full-service media house,” he says. “We do graphics, audio, video, color correction, editing, post production audio and video.”

With “The Wallpaper Artist,” Mulet says, “I was trying to capture the real Russel, in all his iterations. He is a real person and there are many layers to him.”

“It was slow going at first but once I started going out to job sites with Russel and started interviewing people, I really enjoyed watching the entire story come together and seemingly have it be completely revealed to me by him and the people in the film.”

The biggest challenge “was deciding which story to tell. There are many stories there,” Mulet says.

Among those is Siegel’s own personal journey to where he is today. He explains, “I overcame a lot of adversity in my life. I was born with learning disabilities and a really bad speech impediment. I had learning comprehension problems, confidence problems and a lot of anxiety.”

Back then, he was “being treated with medications and doctors. They wanted to institutionalize me. Thank God, my parents said ‘no.’”

“The support I got from many people, and the continued support I have now, is how I have been able to overcome. From friends to family, and my parents, I am grateful. I have had many ups and downs. I am appreciative for what I have and my relationships with people. What it means to me to be where I am now is priceless,” Siegel says.

Mulet adds, “I was able to experience firsthand the depths of Russel’s soulful, sincerity and kindness. And the amount of love that there is for Russel in all his communities. What an authentic, sincere, generous, and courageous person Russel Lee Siegel is, and what a brilliant artist he is.”

“The process of making something like this film,” Siegel says, “reminds me of my philosophy, ‘One strip at a time!’”

He reflects that process was stressful at times, and very emotional at times. Especially “when it comes to my dad, which is why I am doing what I am doing now,” he says.

But making “The Wallpaper Artist” has not only been about capturing his past and professional journey, but also what he has discovered going forward. “I realize with this, I show up. I have learned that I am damn good, excellent at what I do. I am a resilient person. I don’t give up.”

When lights go down at Lighthouse and the film flickers to life, audiences will also discover the many layers of Siegel’s story, “one strip at a time.”


Photos by Milo Hess and Dana Humphrey.

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