Thursday, July 16, 2009

Facing the Dragon

Probably the hardest part of any painting project is confronting the vacant surface where your work needs to appear. This is most scary when the space is large. The level of difficulty multiplies when measurements are spoken in feet rather than inches. Nowhere was this a bigger challenge for me than a wall in the Olive Garden restaurant project at 2 Times Square.

I was going through some old photos to scan into my computer portfolio the other night. I found a few I hadn't looked at in awhile and they brought back a flood of memories. I think the year was 1993 and as the mural painter for all new Olive Gardens since 1985, I was given the biggest project I had ever attempted. I was asked to design and execute a series of paintings ranging from 4 by 5 feet to a three story diagonal shaped monster mural seen from those three floors in partial views.

I flew to NY to look at the space in its raw form, with only the structural components in place. The street entry faces south at the north end of Times Square at 46th St. You entered a cafe at street level then funneled to an escalator that took you past an open mezzanine where a bar was being constructed. The ride ended when you stepped off at the main dining lobby on the third level. The wall to the right of the escalator was where the mural would be located - first floor to (gulp) third level ceiling. A couple of problems presented themselves. How do you paint above an escalator and how do you design a cohesive mural that will only be partially seen from different floors. There were 6 or 7 subordinate paintings to be completed, so remembering wisdom for me is a gradual gift, I left this big one with the greatest challenges, for last.

Working in Times Square is an entertaining pastime. Some days I would sit with the construction workers on 5 gallon plastic buckets at lunch and watch the world pass by. One day we watched a then lean Kirstie Allie limo surf, waving to the commoners on Broadway. As our thickly accented security guard who came from central Africa said, "People of many tribes." For sure.

When the day came to start the big painting, I placed a serrated pattern I had made on the wall. This was made of several smaller segments drawn back at my Orlando studio that were taped together and placed on the wall. Then I pounced a chalk bag over it to leave the drawing on the plaster.
A narrow escalator doesn’t lend itself to staging scaffolding or even standing up a ladder. The carpenters took pity on me and built a box that fit over the steps and that gave me a small platform to work from. About 8 days later the painting was finished.
The Times Square job was the most challenging and rewarding of all my mural assignments. The project took ten or eleven weeks total with s evenweeks on site. Being there was fun but it was like living on the Strip in Vegas. On weekends home, it felt good to sit outside in bare feet, and listen to the birds sing.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this reflection. I envy people with the ability to describe their memories so vividly - was reading another artists journal/blog today, Colin Page from Maine, his link shares his work and thoughts and also makes me wish I had artistic ability! Thanks for sharing!