I had a "chicken and egg" experience this summer. You might call it synchronicity. Late this past spring I had begun talking to my friend and muralist Victor Goikoetxea ("tx" in Basque sounds like "ch"). He was teaching a mural-painting workshop in his hometown of San Sebastian, Spain, and I wondered if I could learn a lot from a class that was not taught in English. Around this same time, one of my art collectors who has a home in the birthplace of the great Michelangelo said he had an idea for me: paint a mural of three curvaceous babes taking a dip into a pool surrounded by window views of the Italian landscape and Roman ruins.
I must admit that one of the greatest joys in my life arrives when friends become clients and clients become friends. We see people more as complex energies when we get to know them in different contexts. It makes for interesting discoveries about them and myself and fun times. Do you feel the same?
It seemed a no-brainer to accept this opportunity. My mother is an artist, and she created a wall space in my room when I was a new teen-ager that framed my first mural. Mine was an ocean-themed work with a mermaid and sea creatures. Surprisingly, I do not remember ever having seen or taken a photograph of it. In any event, I had not painted on a wall since I was a child and mural painting was a lot different from street painting!
As with much of my art in any medium, most of the work happens in my head or parts on paper before the real material is ever even touched. This project contained many new elements for me besides the obvious size factor. [The mural is on a wall that is approximately 200 x 400 cm or 6.5 x 13+ feet.] Although I have studied perspective, I had not designed a lot of environments in perspective and with multiple figures. It was fun trying to create the illusion of another space connected to the room in which I painted. There were many things to consider in the design, besides the elements he wanted to see in the painting. Mainly, there is a real window that seemed unfortunately placed on the wall, as well as being an odd size for anything too far away. But I loved the wood with the iron hinges and therefore did not want to just paint over it, as if it never existed. Instead I decided to feature it and create a scene in which it sort of belonged. There was also a Jacuzzi in the center of the room, less than one meter from the wall; a sink against the wall on the left; and the space overshadowed on the right when the picture window on the adjacent wall is open.
My first step was to map out the dimensions of the wall, locate all of the known furniture issues, and other possibly important lines. I added the magenta lines that correspond to the height of the picture window on the adjacent wall. I had at one point wondered if any window opening I designed should match up with the vista window on the other wall. Architects seem to prefer a certain kind of symmetry in the spaces they design. Site-specific works are best when they consider the site in which they exist.
You may see in this first image that I added a vanishing point and drew some lines from it to key positions for figures and features. Perspective drawings and paintings are typically designed from one viewing point. Ideally, the mural should look good to a person sitting in the Jacuzzi. I considered the viewer's position, side to side, as well as at what height his eyes will be. In this case, though, I decided that the door entering the room on the far left would probably be a more common position for the mural to be seen, since many people may stand at the door and look into the room, while fewer may actually sit in the Jacuzzi. So, I later moved the vanishing point slightly to the left of the center of the wall, keeping the horizon at my eye level, since I am fairly average in height.
I started to work in collage mode, rearranging elements around these structures. I am not very good with Photoshop, but I still find it faster to move, flip, and resize things when determining composition. I looked into so many ideas of mathematical forms, such as spirals and triangles. I did not just want to fill a space; I wanted to take you somewhere. Also, I looked to two of my favorite artists, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Sebastiano Ricci for ideas.
My first idea was too literal and felt claustrophobic (see above). However, recognizing that emotion helped me to break through to create a more open space. I ditched the computer and picked up the ever-so-sexy and flexible stick of vine charcoal and very roughly sketched out my new idea right before I visited my client. He is a smart guy and I was so happy that he understood the idea just from the sketch and was pleased. I later refined the drawing, computing the perspective issues more than any details. I thought to do a color sketch in pastel beforehand, but ran out of time. The image existed really only in my mind, and even that image was altered as I was painting the mural.
I also had an idea, rather late in the process, to change the main figure. I did not want to create a voyeuristic situation as much as an inviting one. So, I decided to have the model try a pose that looked directly at the viewer and said, "Come on in; the water is fine." Working in a visual language, sometimes it is difficult to communicate body language in text (e-mail). My time with my model was extremely limited and I depended on her and her husband to provide me with images since we were rarely in the same place at the same time. So, I shot a quick snapshot in my room while I struck the pose I envisioned and sent it to the model to communicate what I wanted, time being of the essence by that point. I am fortunate to work with wonderful people.
My client and I discussed various issues as we went along. He was a bit like a coach and the idea of mural painting as an athletic endeavor amused me. I think he enjoyed the idea of helping me pace myself to match the deadline we were up against (and I did find this helpful), but I am also quite stubborn. Each morning that he woke up and discovered that I had not arrived to the point at which he had anticipated, I simply hoped that he saw why I had decided to slow down and fix something that bothered me.
I also explained the sequencing of the painting process. I had to paint certain areas first so that they would be thoroughly dry before I added the next layer (yes, even in acrylic), or sometimes I just wanted to start work on a part to let it sit in my mind for a day as I thought things through. I enjoyed having his and other eyes around on occasion because one of the main difficulties with this project was the tight deadline and my level of fatigue mixed with constant thinking. Another was the limited ability to stand back and take a look at the work. Feedback from fresh eyes was appreciated. I enjoyed our collaborations.