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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Postmodern Murals

The Los Angeles mural (539 S. Los Angeles St.), commissioned by Mark Foster as an album cover for his group, Foster the People, and their album, Supermodel. It was very nearly destroyed until a petition drive netting some 12,000 signatures saved it.
In some major urban areas this form of art seems to be literally everywhere. Many people in Los Angeles, for instance, might see half a dozen examples just on their way to work. I'm talking about murals, and whether we realize it or not, this type of art is probably the oldest in the history of mankind. After all, the Chauvet Cave paintings (below) in southern France date from around 30,000 BC. Egyptian tomb murals go back as far as 3150 BC. Some Postmodern murals go back as far as 1970 AD. Of course the lines separating painted, billboard-size advertisements and murals can be quite fuzzy. Likewise, one might say on the other end of the spectrum, so too are the lines separating graffiti from what we've come to know as "urban murals." Moreover, neither delineations are fixed. Pop Art broadened its scope by validating advertising while art critics during the past thirty years or so have often done the same for street art.
Painted wall mural from the Chauvet Cave, 30,000 BC
Art critics and people like myself, who write about art, like to define, abridge, simplify, over-simplify, classify, and even mummify whatever it is they elucidate upon. Since that's the case, let me first define the mural: an image applied to a wall creatively conveying a message or decorating an otherwise empty space. That's pretty broad (notice I didn't even mention art). Yet it contains one key word limiting its scope and tying it to art--"creatively." I intend that to convey the presence of an original thought and/or design regardless as to whether the mural is heavily laden with social content or simply intended to look pretty--covering up ugliness or emptiness. In abridging the subject, suffice to say most murals are painted. In simplifying the term, let's use the word "big." Murals are bigger than most canvas paintings. They are, however, not necessarily attached permanently to a wall surface nor necessarily painted upon a single surface. Sometimes they are rendered in sectional units installed so as to create a whole. To over-simplify, they are usually considered art.
Postmodern Folk Art--the world's smallest outside murals?
The Grand Canyon mosaic mural
by Mary Blair, Disney Contemporary
Resort Hotel
Classifying murals gets a good deal more difficult. I suppose the first breakdown should be inside and outside murals. That really doesn't say much or help much. Whether inside or outside makes little difference in the size of the mural. Disney's Contemporary Resort Hotel (left) has a mosaic mural of the Grand Canyon in its "lobby" that's around ten stories tall. The folk art murals on the rough clapboard siding (above) may be among the world's smallest outside murals. Certainly, the block-long group of apartment buildings rising some fifteen stories into the Berlin skyline (below), deserves its claim as the largest mural ever painted. We might also classify murals at to their being "message" art or simply decorative. But, like everything else having to do with delineating murals, the lines get pretty fuzzy in the extremes, which seems to be one of the primary hallmarks of murals--extremes. Speaking of Berlin, at one time, its infamous wall was one very long collection of murals. Today, only a small section of some of its better artistic renderings still stands.
The world's largest mural, Berlin

Copyright, Jim Lane
Berlin's wall gallery of murals as of 2010.
Copyright, Jim Lane
NCL's Norwegian Sun--movable murals
It's a tossup as to which mural is the world's most famous, Michelangelo's Last Judgment or Leonardo's Last Supper. Forget Michelangelo's famous ceiling. Although I didn't mention it in my definition above, I draw the line at considering ceiling paintings to be murals. We could also classify murals as to stationary and mobile, thereby including images painted on the large, empty surfaces of trucks and vans; as well as those sported by Norwegian Caribbean ships such as the Norwegian Sun, which was our comfortable conveyance to the Baltic several years ago. My own personal experience with murals is somewhat limited. I've actually painted only one (below), a hall mural portrait honor roll of beloved teachers at the high school where I taught. However, I've supervised quite a number of students over the years in painting over-the-classroom-door murals themed to correspond to the scholastic content taught in the various rooms.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Legends of Fort Frye, 1998, Jim Lane


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