The Wonderful World of Mural Painting: A Muralist's View
I recently saw the movie "Evening" which was memorable not for the great action or dialogue, but for the slightly whimsical but elegant mural that was painted on the foyer walls of the home where it was filmed. Over-sized fruit trees were painted over a silver metallic background and gave the interior the character of a well-traveled and entertaining favorite aunt.
Historically, murals have played a big role in beautifying our world and educating the public. When traveling I constantly seek out ancient murals and am inspired and humbled by the beauty of these works of art. Muralists of pre-Colombian Mexico produced thousands of frescos that were not only masterful examples of color and design, but are now great tools for understanding a complex culture and belief system.
American muralists have also used their painting to tell our stories. During the Depression WPA artists created hundreds of murals in libraries and post offices across the country. In the Mission District of San Francisco there are hundreds of exterior murals that beautify the area and also tell political, social and personal stories. Murals in private homes and businesses are part of this traditional form of art.
In the past I sometimes questioned whether commissioned murals could be considered works of art until I saw the John Singer Sargent murals in The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Boston Public Library. Apparently he felt that his mural painting was a much higher form of art and struggled with the validity of his canvas paintings of famous society women. Sargent's murals are beautifully designed and painted in a decorative style, unlike his impressionistically painted portraits, for which he is more famous. If Sargent had such respect for murals then so can I. He also worked in several styles and mastered them all. Similarly, my own "fine art" benefits tremendously from the constant practice of mural painting and vice-versa.
As a fine and decorative artist, murals are my favorite kind of commission. They require research into the style of the mural and subject matter, thus giving me an excuse to delve into lots of art books. I rely heavily on my knowledge of art history for the direction of design. For instance, when designing a large commercial mural of Manhattan, I researched vintage travel posters and studied the graphic and art deco style that was usually incorporated into the composition. Using the same design style, I crafted a to-scale mock-up on grid paper, which was then transferred onto the 15' x 45' wall. The up-scale pizza eatery, Santucci's of Norwood, MA was infused with the energy and atmosphere of a stylized Times Square in New York.
Painting murals demands all of the artist's skills, such as representational and perspective drawing, sensitive color manipulation, and mastery of painting. Each commission must take into consideration the ultimate goal of the project. Residential murals should reflect the personalities of the homeowners and should also be in keeping with the décor of the room. Commercial murals should increase the appeal of the establishment as well as define the theme of the business.
Our work at Bellisimo Grande Hotel in Connecticut created a truly Italian world. When guests enter the 2 story lobby of the Hotel they are treated to an illusionary vision of a classic Italian architectural courtyard. Looking down from the trompe l'oeil painted balcony are several famous Renaissance figures such as Michelangelo's David and Botticelli's Venus. The view of the Mediterranean sky beyond and the tops of buildings you would see in cities like Venice and Milan can be seen past the architectural arches that define the exterior of the balcony. Frescos from the ancient city of Pompeii were recreated on the walls of the pool room. Roman Gods and Goddesses appear softly amongst the faded and weathered faux finishes, replicating the original frescos that were painted with ground natural pigments so many years ago. Incorporating our entire arsenal of muralists' tools such as trompe l'oeil, faux finish, architectural, perspective, figure and landscape painting, these murals were a great success.
As a muralist, some of my favorite projects have been for children's rooms. Playrooms have become campgrounds with deer and raccoons. Arteriors recently painted a panoramic campground mural for a toddler's playroom in a newly built home in Eastern Massachusetts. The imagery was painted with an illustration-style realism that will appeal to the child now and when he is 10 years old as well. All animals and trees appearing in the mural are local flora and fauna, so the original goal of bringing the outdoors (and a bit of magic) to the inside was realized.
Girls bedrooms can be enchanted forests, or babies can sleep in a hushed atmosphere of the African Savannah by means of a nursery mural.
Murals are also appropriate for dining rooms, living rooms, powder rooms and foyers. There are formal garden murals painted in a room with a trompe l'oeil stone block finish, sky-scape murals and panoramic landscape murals.
Murals are wonderful in the way that they transform a space into another world. Whether murals are created simply for decorative purposes or to elevate and enlighten the viewer, they are an art form with great potential.
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