In the fall of 1998
|The CMHA Mural by John Rivera-Resto, Cleveland, Ohio USA 1998|
My assistant for this job was the talented and very lovely Miss
|John Rivera-Resto at the CMHA mural site, fall of 1998|
I did not expect to hear from him again. Hey, I was almost finished with the present mural, I should be getting paid soon, and Andrea needed bolero lessons! Life was good. Weeks later I got a call from Vladan. I had no idea who he was nor did I remember then our previous encounter. Making things more confusing was Vladan's accent -he is from Serbia. Now, I have an accent but he has AN ACCENT! But I understood enough to jot down an address and make a visiting appointment to the Panorama World Travel Agency in Lakewood, Ohio.
The following week I visited "Panorama", Vladan proudly showed me around the office and then explained his desire for a wall painting. Being a little early in the day for me (I sleep artist's hours) I could barely lift my dark shades without the sun piercing my eyes into a coma, much less make sense of all that Vladan was saying -which was a lot! But I got enough to understand that he wanted an office mural "relating to travel destinations".
|Mr. Vladan Blagojevic of Panorama World Travel in Lakewood, Ohio USA|
I gave him some ideas and a price quote, said my goodbyes and walked my laconic self out of the office. I did not expect to hear from him again. In the mural business, it is usually one out of ten who calls back. No one seems to understand the amount of time and effort required to paint murals, much less a professional one. So when they hear about the cost involved, most hesitate and reconsider their initial expectations. For a muralist, this comes with the territory.
|Panorama World Travel in Lakewood, Ohio USA.|
Well, after the passing of several more weeks, Vladan called again. He wanted his office mural and I was it. Actually, he had called several other artists for quotes but their artistic credentials where not to his standards (and most likely the quoted prices). It must be said at this point that Vladan has excellent taste -he is European; he knows art. He is also a shrewd businessman who knows the value of a dollar. After some deliberation he concluded that with me he was getting both: artistic value and a great deal. Have I mentioned how smart he is?
Offices at Panorama World Travel in Lakewood, Ohio USA.
Please note, the images on this page were taking during various times of the day or night and under vastly different lighting conditions. Color quality in these varies tremendously.
And so, the Panorama World Travel Agency Mural saga began. It was nice to have a "warm" interior mural commission during the winter. The side of the office which contained the wall I was to work on was virtually empty because of its recent remodelling so I had the place pretty much to myself. On the other side of the office, separated by a partition wall, the travel business flourished. I couldn't ask for a better setup.
I received my initial payment and waited for the check to clear before getting into painting mode. The first installment covers equipment, supplies, and an estimated wage for a month of work. My estimated wage is based on the money I need to cover my living expenses for a period of time. When you do not have to worry about the money for the next month's rent or mortgage payment, or securing payment for your monthly bills, transportation and food, you paint better. On longer commissions I negotiate periodic payments, usually with a lump sum at the end of the job.
Composite image of the Panorama World Travel Mural
The panorama premise had been recently remodeled. The wall where I was going to paint the mural had been wallpapered. So my first order of business was to mark the contour for the mural and cut away the paper. Any loose paper edges were secured with glue after washing away the wallpaper paste. The exposed wall had a hard plaster finish and probably several layers of paint. But the surface was firm and needed no scraping. All I had to do to prepare it for painting was to rough it with medium grit sandpaper, clean it again and lastly apply a coating of water-base primer.
The mural, as seen in this detail, is a colorful all-inclusive composite of the cultural and world-famous geographical landmarks of the various destinations where Panorama World Travel offered tours.
To prepare for the design I studied the travel brochures Vladan had collected for me. Like with most clients who know what they want but get lost in the details, I had to put it all together into a cohesive design that made sense. A little bit of this and a little bit of that -and maybe some of this... doesn't cut it. A mural is not a moving picture with dissolves from one scene to the next. It is one image. It may contain many visual elements, but these elements need a coherent framework. Every element has to be carefully placed. This is called building a composition.
The painting was done with acrylic paints directly on a hard plaster wall.
Sure, you can paste together a bunch of images on a wall, but if that is what you want you wouldn't need me. All that's required is paper images, scissors and glue. To be sure, this is what many artists do: a collage of images. But the result is never memorable. Maybe loud, but so are billboards. But that's not fine art. A mural, the king of fine arts, is something you have to live with every single day. It is design to add to your quality of life. It is designed to be enjoyed, to add beauty to a space, and to make you feel important.
A map of Southeast Asia was created at the center of the composition.
Important? Yes, important. How so? Because you are fortunate to work or live in a place with a one-of-a-kind work of art made especially for you and no one else. If you can afford a mural, you are one above the rest who have to do with mechanical copies of artworks and not the real thing. Therefore, having a mural is a sign of social and cultural status. Only the best is good enough for you. And that's where I come in.
The painting is highly detailed and almost photographic. All the elements in the composition where woven into two coherent designs, one on each side of the centered map.
|Nancy Lewis -the sweet girl next door that everyone loves.|
Before the pre-9/11 computerized days, the travel industry was a very different place then now. It offered great perks to those in the business, one of them being the convenience to travel to many parts the world. So Nancy, being that special kind of no-nonsense American woman willing to "rough it" anywhere in the world -as long as there was a 4-star hotel with a steaming bath at the end of the day, had been to many interesting places around the globe.
|The geographical features were raised in relief with plaster before being painted accordingly. Then icons representing each country and region were painstakingly painted using acrylic inks.|
Originally from a small town in New Jersey (the kind where you could have filmed "Leave it to Beaver"), she pursued a career in travel that brought her to Cleveland after a time in San Diego, California. She bought a condo in Lakewood's Gold Coast, only a few minutes drive in her sporty blue Mustang, and didn't have time for other interests outside of work. Naturally, she found me amusing -and, I'm exotic!
|Care was taken to faithfully recreate architectural features.|
What most amused her was the fact that I could nap on the carpet under a desk, sing "I feel like a natural woman" while painting, talk about Poke Môn with Vladan's young son Stefan, and could also relate to her in detail how my then paramour was spooking me with all those candles around her bathtub. What is it with women and candles!
|Detail of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.|
For my part, I discovered that she was a baseball fan who rooted for the Indians, slept in an "Omar Vizquel" night shirt -as many women did around that time, and in her spare time she loved to cook and entertain. But the rarest of finds was the fact that she never cursed. Ever. Her beautiful phone voice has never uttered a single profanity -and this hasn't change in the two decades I've known her! Even my son Alex, noticing this wonder, had to pull me aside to ask -"Dad, where'd you find her?" Nancy was a find indeed -so I decided to keep her! But that's another story.
|Detail of a Koala bear, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, or Ayers Rock|
The first thing I painted was the extended map at the center of the mural. It was my way to warm up to the job by doing something simple. I strongly advice any painter about to embark in a complex project, to begin with something easy and fun. So I drew an outline of the map and then build up the mountain ranges using a plaster mix carefully applied with a painter's spatula (a small metal instrument used to mix artists' paints on a palette or to apply paint to a canvas). Adding a little texture was done more for fun but it did add more dimension to the piece. Then I painted the map accordingly.
|These photographs show the work in progress. The mural was painted in layers, starting with the background, and then overlaying the pictorial components. Paint mixes are kept in sealed plastic containers until needed. All necessary supplies and tools are placed at-reach on a light-weight camping table. A radio-cassette player was usually playing audio-books.|
Next, using acrylic inks for their fluidity and a fine brush, I painted little icons all over the map representing the cultural or geographical highlights of each region. Doing all the fine detailing is something I do enjoy since it doesn't take much time to do but once done impresses the hell out of people. But considering that I have to paint over fifty little icons, time added up.
|The composition was designed to look like an unrolled image spread open along the wall. The mural was signed on the lower left corner of the mural, right over the wall of China.|
After completing the map, I proceed to work simultaneously on the lateral panels. I began by carrying the same horizon line across both sections. The 'horizon line' is that far away point where the sky meets land or the water. This is where the sun sets. By anchoring all the geography to the same horizon line I brought unity and continuity to the entire piece. The right side of the mural was dedicated to the Far East, mostly China and Japan. The left side of the mural was dedicated to the South Pacific and Australia. But the horizon line is the same on both sections.
|Adding details takes time, such as painting the 152 pearls on the musician's headdress. But these are the qualities that add interest, value and delight to this type of painting.|
I painted the skies and clouds next. But I made changes to the color temperature of each section by using different kinds of blues and by changing the shapes of the clouds. This is so because cloud formations are molded by wind, humidity and temperature. I use Thalo and Cerulean cool blues on the China/Japan side and warm Ultramarine and Cobalt blues for the South Pacific and Australia section. These in turn were carried into the water sections.
I should note that some artists considerer my classifications of warm vs. cool blues to be the reverse. But this is so because they base their argument on color theory (which is based on the mixing of pigments). Instead I use light theory in my representation of color because it closer replicates real life observations. Colors with the shortests wavelengths carry the most energy. Having grown up in the tropics I can attest to these color differences and temperature associations as did most of the old masters up to Victorian times.
|Painting this lovely lady took two nights. I work acrylic paints in a manner similar to artist's oils by applying the paint in think layers. This allows me to create very subtle gradiations in color as well as thin transparent tints. I always remind art students that first one needs to understand oil paints before achieveing the same results with acrylics.|
As days became weeks, I began to feel weary. Painting the landscape backgrounds was easy as far as this type of painting goes, but the foreground elements were taking too long. I had chosen to paint the mural with acrylic paint because of their fast drying rate and vibrant color palette. But above all, acrylics are almost odorless and this is a desirable quality when painting in an active working area. But just as important to me was the fact that acrylics allowed me to work fast so I could finish and move to other desirable projects. However, I was slowed down by the details. I could have selected images with less intricate minutiae, but my personal artistic standards dictate that I do what's good for the painting, not what's convenient for the painter.
The Panorama World Travel mural took the winter of 1998-99 (three and a half months) to paint. To this day, in spite of my weariness during the long process it took to create, I count it among my favourite ones.
When I finally completed the Panorama mural after almost four months of continued painting, I was tired but pleased with results. Vladan was even happier and so was everyone else who came to see the painting. Nancy asked me if I would be interested in taking a look at the tile work in her bathroom, a do-it-yourself project she was very proud of, and to give her some pointers on the further décor of her condo. And so, after some time out to celebrate (and forget) my completion of the Panorama mural, I visited her suite at the Carlyle Condominiums on the lake to take a look. By the fall of that year, we were traveling together through Europe on a cultural tour. But that's another story that you can follow by clicking on the 'The Lewis Apartment Murals and Decor' link in 'The Murals' page.