Cassidy Merkle: “Murals: Walls that Speak”
Hello. My name is Cassidy Merkle. I am a senior anthropology major and art and design minor here at Purdue Fort Wayne. My honors presentation, Murals: Walls that Speak, takes a look at murals and how they speak to the greater community. This was done by looking at three difference cases, past and present, where murals were executed at a location. Murals are constantly communicating important information, such as social issues, advertisements, pure aesthetics, and more. Along with these examples, the research extended to the murals of the Fort Wayne art district. Communicating with individuals within the Fort Wayne community resulted in an understanding of those related to the downtown murals. A large portion of this research was couple with the completion of a mural within the downtown art district. The completion f this mural allowed for a deeper look at how a mural is executed. It also helped develop an understanding of how a mural is developed and works to pass along the proper message to those who view it.
To begin, I feel some background is necessary. People have been painting on walls for centuries. These paintings have adorned tombs, churches, monasteries and more. Even tough many of these images are damaged and show wear, they certainly show even today, convey the messages the artist intended. Frescos are the most well-known of these paintings. The term fresco comes from the Italian meaning fresh. They were traditional paintings done on wet lime plaster, and water was used as the vehicle for the dry powder pigment to mix with the plaster. This then would allow for the paint to set with the plaster and therefore become a part of the wall itself. This technique created a lasting image which for the artist who painted it was very important. They wanted these images to last as long as possible so as to influence as many people as possible. Frescos are not necessarily difficult but some steps must be adhered to and understood in order to complete one successfully. The painter must adhere to a strict time limit. Typically, a layer of plaster would need at most one hour to dry, and the artist would need to start one hour after the plaster was applied. This meant that an artist would only have a finite amount of time to paint and would most likely do a mural in sections. Another style of fresco employed as a fresco secco. This was a painting completed on dry plaster with pigments requiring a binding medium, such as egg tempera. Egg tempera is a fast-drying medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with water-soluble binder medium. This allowed for more to be done to a painting over a long period of time. A fresco secco could be done on top of an existing fresco or it could be done on a blank wall of its own. However, when a secco is placed upon an existing fresco it is more likely to flake off. This is because a secco generally needed a rough surface to adhere to. Frescos are generally applied to smooth surfaces.
Seccos are added to apply details not added when the plaster was wet. Seccos done on top of frescos are also done because some pigments of the frescos did not work chemically with the wet line plaster. To get certain colors such as a vibrant blue, they had to be added after the fresco was completed. In all, a secco was quicker, allowed for corrections, and colors could vary more than in a wet fresco.
Now due to our fast-paced lives, murals have adapted to keep up with is. Fresco style paintings are very rare today. This is not just due to the difficulty coordinating with artists and construction workers but also because plaster is outmoded in construction. This means unfortunately that this ancient style of painting does not work well socially or economically with people’s lives. This lack of material such as plaster forced to change the methods of creating murals. This change in how murals are constructed is also important due to the change in our own environment. Murals are made to last for years and are for all purposes permanent. However, nowadays the air in cities is a lot more destructive. Air pollution is hazardous to the permanence in murals and begins to break up the paint. The pollution can cause paint to peal or chip prematurely. Artists try to combat this by painting some murals inside. While this does slow the process, it can also limit the amount of exposure a mural gets. As it is understood today, murals are generally considered any imaged permanently fixed to a wall. This means that a canvas or panel can be thought of as a mural so long as it is not moved. However, there are many communities that still feel pulled towards an imaged directly painted onto a wall. These images also tend to be larger representations, although there are exceptions where some murals are smaller in size. These images are also meant to last for longer periods of time. Most artists today try to have a mural last anywhere form 15-10 years before weather damages occur or other factors take their toll on the paint.
Understanding the production f these murals is valuable because even though there are a lot of technical and environmental issues that have to be dealt with while painting one, they’re still an important way of spreading information to large numbers of people. Some of the important themes these older murals spread to individuals involve inspiring devotion, representing daily life, depicting fanciful images, and so forth. It is important to also point out murals are not limited to just one of these things. They can depict several of these things depending on what the author wanted to convey to their audience.
Murals also do not require words in order to enforce any o f these themes. This is important especially due to the fact that many people could not read until the 1800s. this means that these works gave a visual that allowed people to understand what was important within a society. In murals, such as Miracles of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, the main purpose was to promote devotion to the Christian faith or to Mary herself. The colors and presentation of the story would drive people to put their lives on the line with the expected religious devotion expected of them due to the mural’s nature. They would not be able to read but would understand nonethess.
Another example of this is murals of daily life. The allegory of good and bad government is a fresco that covers three walls of the […] in Cienna. This mural was very important to the elected officials who governed int hat room. It reminded them what good and bad government looked like. This gave the mural a civic importance.
Today murals do the same thing. Some of the what you see today are propaganda, advertisement, social messages, and so forth. These messages also push messages to the general public without the needs of words. This is a way to speak to the community in different ways. This can be seen with the Fort Wayne mural shown to the side. It is certainly aesthetic but it’s also promoting Fort Wayne. It shows pride in the city and the community’s goal of trying to get people to come downtown. The bright colors and the way it flows across the building draws the eye. It evokes interest and makes someone want to travel further and see where the mural leads.
A more modern example of the major movement that represents the importance of murals is that of the Chicano or Mexican American art movement. This art movement which took place in the US during the 1960s was started by individuals such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro to establish community identity. It was influenced by post Mexican revolution ideologies, pre-Columbian art, European painting techniques, and sought to bring light to social and political issues. These murals not only express the cultural values of the painters but spread it to a large audience. It allowed for a large group of individuals to visually protest and show a style. Some of the issues of the mural artists were promoting equal opportunity, social status, civil rights issues, police brutality, educational issues and more. This sociopolitical movement allowed for promotion of a sociopolitical movement asking for change, provoking a fight for civil rights, all without the need for words.
Taking a closer look at these murals, one can see just how they push for a activism, community-based involvement, and cultural and identity affirming energy. Firstly, the mural shows strong activist content to a visual challenging of the social construction of racial and ethnical discrimination, citizenship, labor exploitation, and traditional gender roles in the hopes of social change. They did this in their imagery in a variety of ways. They would take moments of history showing different outcomes, such as representations of injustice from fighting, as well as also painting images with a sense of belonging in the united states. This art has a way of creating a conversation with a story that flows through it. It attempts to empower its creators and establish solution to the problems that they se taking place in the united states. This movement of murals was also community-based. These murals have allowed for public areas to be reclaimed and encourage community participation. this is done to make areas in which the murals are located beautiful and to help their development. This was done on purpose
The Chicano community did not want to paint their murals in sponsored locations or government buildings but rather in public spaces. This would allow them to keep the messages they are spreading highly visible, as well as push for the change they wanted. These murals were also not done normally just by one person. Many of the murals were a collaboration done by several artists. This allowed for the mural to be owned in a sense by a community and made its messages seem more significant to the people who live there. In all, the significance of these murals lie in their accessibility to the public and inclusivity to all. This allowed for the community to decide the meaning o the content of the work because the artist allowed the community to be a part of the concept from start to finish. Finally, these murals show the identity and show the culture of the people. It does this through several presentations of cultural identity, through religious iconography or images and representations of indigenous cultures. Several of these murals exhibit images of the virgin of Guadeloupe, images of the day of the dead, and Aztec heritage. They do this to show that in the midst of all that is happening, there is hope and empowerment. These murals allowed Mexican American individuals to find a way to keep their heritage alive and to share it not just with each other but with the community. They share their struggles and with a blind eye should not be turned to it. Murals gave these individuals a voice. One that transcended language barriers and could be heard by all.
The mural represented to the side displays several of these images. Such as the lady coming from the maize. The Aztec sun within the background of the image. These murals shows the aesthetic of the community with its vivid colors and representations of their ideologies.
One other example that shows the strength of murals are those done in Northern Ireland. For the people of Northern Ireland, these murals have become a symbol of the region. This is because these murals depict the region’s past as well as present political and religious divisions. Two of main images where these are seen are in Belfast and Derry. These murals are in various states of decay and yet when seen no matter what state there in they communicate a strong message. In both of these cities the murals are meant to do several things. They commemorate, communicate and display aspects of Irish culture and history. Some of these themes include those of Irish republicans. These murals reflect issues from the 1981 Irish hunger strike, murals on international solidarity with revolutionary groups, such as those that display the […] bar bombing and balmurphy massacre, as well as murals from the other side. These would be murals from the unionist communities and their fallen members.
Another political genre of mural that is frequently employed is that of the murals done to show traditional themes. These areas are cities of murals. The whole community is a visual conversation with itself and a mirror of the political changes that have occurred. The muralists of this area have painted throughout the last century to display all important historic and political developments. The best example of this is the loyalists murals and the republican murals and how both are trying to push an agenda to the people. The loyalists in one mural painted William III on a white horse to strengthen their identity with the crown. And the republicans painted their own murals to push for a united Ireland with a larger political voice. It is also important to note that the murals of northern Ireland are mostly located within the working class area. This is because it allows for a visual spread of ideas to a larger group of people, allowing them to gain information and their history in a highly public place.
Another interesting thing to note is that not all of the murals in Northern Ireland are strictly political. There are murals in this area that show events of Irish mythology as well. What is interesting is that some of these images have found their way into some of the political murals. This shows that there are individuals that want to keep this part of the history alive in the midst of all of the political arguments that yell out form the walls. There are even some murals that do not talk about Ireland at all. Instead they focus on ideas such as litter prevention, peace, and tolerance. They show a change in the community where individuals are not fighting over their political ideologies but rather environmental activism.
Individuals living in the area have even talked about decommissioning the more intense murals around the area. The mural to the side of this slide is a visual argument to the building of walls, separating communities and the education of children. This is due as visually stated to different ideologies. In northern Ireland many individuals are either catholic or protestant. The boy in this mural is showing a dove that has been shot with two arrows, which represent the two regions in Ireland. This upsets the boy and it leads him to stare angrily in the direction of the Belfast cathedra, which is just down the road from where this mural is located. The muted colors of this mural really help to drive the point that the people are not happy with the way things are being run. The only pops of color are the red hair as well as the red arrow that have pieced the pure white dove, which itself is a conneciton to god.
What is amazing is Fort Wayne has started to use murals just like other communities. Even though these murals are new to the Fort Wayne area, they are quickly becoming very important to the community. for the Fort Wayne community these murals add to the idea of safety, increase foot traffic, increased economic intersections, and increase placemaking. These murals tell the city it is a connected place. Groups of people, such as local business and community event coordinators come to gather to work on and work on these murals in a way that brings the community together. Wone way they have done this is through events in which individuals int eh community get together with the muralist and put to gather a mural in progress. The murals of Fort Wayne are all trying to get families and people downtown. They do this by trying to create an area that seems safer and friendlier tot these groups of people. The murals aid in this because once an area is maintained an maintained, crime and vandalism are known to decrease. Therefore, the commissioning of mural sis supported by the broken windows theory. Since downtown Fort Wayne is an area that is becoming more frequented. It helps to eliminate the possibility f of break-ins of stores. This can be seen in the events that have taken place downtown since the murals have been put in place. One such event is the art crawl. This even brings people downtown to experience the art not just form the murals but form the local artist. Local businesses such as pint and slice and their local mural nose go have also started opening areas around the murals for people to sit and enjoy the art. The mural’s bright colors, intricate patterns, and bright creatures draw people to it. These murals spur a movement and led other local businesses to start placing murals on their buildings, partly to pull in business but also to help upkeep the area and lower vandalism. The Fort Wayne murals also have increased the foot traffic to businesses. Local business in the area around the mural also find themselves getting an economic boost due to the mural. This is aided by the use of social media, maps created with the location s fo the murals on them, and other references. These accounts allow for people to find these locations easier, since, at least in Fort Wayne, they are located within a single district. People find themselves enjoying walking to each location and stopping to establishments within the area. This frequenting of establishments then in turn helps boost Fort Wayne’s’ economy and helps with the start of local business. Finally, these murals are a place for people to connect it doesn’t matter who these people are: businesses, individuals, nonprofits, city officials, or residents can come together and bring murals to life. It gives the city something to be proud of as well as encourage people to visit the city. What all of this comes together is as creative placemaking. This term is generally defined as the use of art or culture by a diverse group of people to change the physical and docile character of a location in the hopes it will spur economic development, promote social change, and improve the environment of an area. In other words, these murals are a catalyst and can lead to their improvements. Therefore the murals of Fort Wayne communicate the hope of the community to clean up the city and make downtown a more frequented location. This will help individuals grow and connect in a meaningful and important way, all in a two-block area that includes a two-block area that includes Washington Blvd and Wayne and Beery Streets between Harrison and Calhoun. This art also speaks to people who may be creative or love art but may not want to frequent a gallery. It allows them to be close with art, even to touch it. These murals are creating an amazing and creative community within the city of Fort Wayne.
Zinnias Bakehouse has always been an engaged member of the Fort Wayne community. And they have always showed support and passion for the arts. At their old building they had a mural commissioned. This mural was simply their logo but people in their community’s aid they still enjoyed walking to the establishment and seeing it on the wall. This mural was mainly an advertisement. However, one could still enjoy it for its aesthetic quality. Its flowing letters curved around, making the design move around the log. It also displayed a pop of color with grabbed the attention of people in the area. When this mural was covered in metal signs later on, many people within the community were very upset. They fell that the beauty of the neighborhood was being taken away from and that the sign should be taken down. The whole community came together to voice this opinion, showing that this mural is still valued.
Now the business has moved and anew mural was put in place. This new mural would still be an advertisement but it would work to heighten the aesthetic quality. This was done with the inclusion of more colors and flowers into the mural to grab passersby attention. The new mural would also still have the name of the company displayed in it. However, it would be done in the leaves of the zinnias. This would draw someone in in order to view the mural more carefully. Even though all of the of the Fort Wayne murals are known to increase foot traffic, this mural would work better as an advertisement because it will place the name of the shop in people’s heads, even if they do not see the name of the company right off. The zinnias surrounding the name of the company will make the person think of the business. Anyone will be able to associate the imagery with the company. There were many steps to get this mural to this point, which will be outlined in the slides to come. The work on this project will be an in depth look at how this mural would come to be and how this mural and how the mural would come together to display the correct method.
This process starts with gaining the correct permits from the city where is the city wants the mural to increase economic exchange and foot traffic. The city still want all the legal hoops to be jumped through. This particular mural was a little different than the others due to it being expressly for advertising. Therefore, a permit was obtained through the department of planning services with the citizens square building downtown because it is classified through the city as a sign and not a mural. Did you not regulate signage but the mural still had to fit within the site and regulations. We take up about 3% of the total square footage of the wall so the mural had to be completed without taking up too much space as to disrupt those regulations.
After measuring the side of the building where the mural would be placed I was able to calculate the max size of the mural to be about 4 foot by 8 foot. This is a pretty standard size sign. With the permit approved the next step of the process could begin. This new mural would inevitably speak to people. The advertisement aesthetic images have to invoke a visual interest to the people who pass by as well. As important is that the mural is in a trafficked area already.
The bakery is located on the corner of Wayne and Barr street. this location would allow for people to come in contact with a mural. Not just due to it being a busy street but also because of the events that take place in this area. What would draw the most attention to the mural is that it’s at Barr Street market which during the summer runs parallel to the mural. With this interaction individuals as well as posts from the bakery owner via social media platforms in the company name to be spread.
With all of this planned out, the design process can begin. This would involve researching and creating designs that could be good, which involved a detailed analysis and assessment of the work materials that could start to be collected and finally the mural to be painted. The time leading up to the application of the mural was actually longer than its application even though the process of painting the mural. People think it’ll only take about a week however during this time many observations were made not only by myself but by the community as well should be covered in the slide.
You started out with sketches of potential images they could attract people any ideas for considered and the 5 images shown on the side by the result of research on the company. The first image features hands holding the name of the bakery. This image will be a bright orange with the background of cream. Even those of the owner’s vivid colors with pulling into visual and advertise the company through the simple text.
The second image presented several zinnias and more than one color. This would draw the eye and as it is being viewed an individual would notice that the green leaves in the background spelled out the name. To the right of the image was another concept that would show a field is any of that close this mural design placed the name of the bakery with the image and make it purely a representation. People would associate this with the name of the bakery.
The designs were eventually taken from 5 potential designs to 2 images on the side or the 2 designs chosen to be turned in the final drawings. 2 images were chosen from extensive conversations between my mentor, the owner, and myself. We felt that they convey the best way of advertising for the bakery while still creating an aesthetic, beautiful image that will hold up with the other murals in the downtown art district. To decide which of these images was to be chosen for the final mural, they were pretty again is done with the image was a value waited by to sleep color do you lose in a space that created the amount of detail in the leaves and petals and a design was chosen. The sign shows a field of zinnias with an implied name of the company created with the leaves. This design would strike a balance: it would also advertise the company due to the inclusion of its name. However, if the text was missed, people would still be able to visually associate the flowers with the name of the company.
Research that had to be done to see what types of materials would be adequate to paint the mural. A mural should last about 15 to 20 years before there is need for any sort of restoration. The paint should be able to stand up to weathering, chemicals in the air, and interactions with the community. A sturdy paint was discovered and purchased. This paint is known for its high quality, durability, and many murals use it to create vivid and lasting artwork. Other necessary materials were gathered to be placed on the ground to catch paint, and brushes of different types were taken to allow for textures. With any image the wall the image was being placed […] which will allow for the paint to grab more easily and last longer. To finalize the design on the wall murals generally use one of 2 methods so they can transfer the image by hand or they will use a projector to display the image on the wall and outline it. From there the painting could begin. This can be challenging due to weather.
It becomes water resistant. Wet dry is faster in nature feel it was important, especially with this factor of weather. To start this process, I cleaned up the area I would paint and inspected it for any structural issue. Needless to say, things such as cracks in the foundation would need to be fixed before any painting could begin. I marked off the 4 foot by 8-foot area with painters’ tape. I gave myself a white background so that the color of the wall to influence the pigments of the paint that I’m using.
I projected my design on to the wall the business are used a marker to give general questions for each the flowers were as well as a lease filling out the company’s name there with the design in place in pain during this process it was actually interesting to see how many people would walk past to see what I was doing. They were nonetheless interested in what was going on. As is shown in the images I progressed my way through each of the colors used for this mural. Tt was green, orange, red, purple, and burgundy. Each color took the better part of the day to paint. This is because for each object in the painting I had several tints or areas of color with white added and muted colors, which is a color that has its complement added to it.
Even though it was just me who was painting doesn’t mean in the community was not involved or interested in the process. When people would start talk about what was being painted compliment the design for express statement. One of the days when the mural was being worked on a woman stopped to ask if the completed drawing in the notebook that was beside me and the process that was happening on the painting. She was excited to see another mural being painted in the city as well as interested in the company that was putting the mural. In these interactions the mural seems as though it is going to speak to those who pass by in the way it was intended.
In actually completing one of these works, it can be seen how these impressive displays are vital to the communities in which they are painted. As I hope I have expressed, and im sure you know, art is massively important. It allows individuals to express their views on matters that affect their lives and the lives of people around them. One such way that people have found to express these views in a highly public way is with murals. They express the aesthetics, advertisements, social and political ideas of a community and more. They have been used for centuries to do just this, especially in the instances of the Mexican American murals, the murals of Northern Ireland, and the murals of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
With these examples, the actual process of painting a mural has given insight into just how they are formed so that they may convey their meaning. The final design for the Zinnias bakehouse mural brings out bright colors and a beautiful flowing design. It also invokes the company it was painted for. One can see how it is going to help increase foot traffic, economic exchange, and interest in the arts just like the other downtown murals. Through all, one thing is certain: no matter who someone is or what their background for murals is, the mural will still convey something to them, and they will understand it. They may only see the beauty in it or understand the historical reference, but they heard something nonetheless. In this regard, murals truly are walls that speak.