Stephanie Boutari, Artist | June 5, 2014
As a graduate student of architecture with a long-time passion for art, I knew it was just a matter of time until I would start painting murals. This article describes how I came about painting the mural on the Bread Factory building, Tectonic Surface.
I have enjoyed painting for as long as I can remember, but it was only recently that I began to explore painting on a larger, more impactful scale and context. For a site such as the Bread Factory’s 1600 square-foot south-facing façade, I found it necessary to approach the project from a dual perspective of both architecture and painting.
One of my key goals for the mural was to respond to and engage with the existing context. I began by limiting myself to avoiding forms of explicit representation or communication, to better allow the primary elements of design – such as line, form, and colour – to take precedence. Being inspired by architecture, the mural employs a language of rhythm, geometry, depth, and repetitive forms. At the same time, the subtle nuances of paint, colour selections, gradations, and vivid irregularities add a strong element of subjectivity. The process of designing and creating Tectonic Surface was thus a combination of rational and unconscious responses to the site, a process at once painterly and architectural.
I wanted to situate the mural in a manner distinct from that of simply hanging a painting, as one would do in an art gallery. This was not the undiscriminating setting of a typical gallery’s white, neutral spaces designed to accommodate a wide variety of art. Therefore, I found it important to acknowledge the existing physical features of the site – such as its materiality, colours, patterns, tectonics, and openings – and to find a way of integrating these aspects into the artwork rather than ignoring them or attempting to conceal them. The height and proportions of the existing wall openings, and the rhythm of windows of the adjacent school are both examples of site features that I responded to directly. Further, the painting begins to fade in saturation and ‘break apart’ towards the left; a compositional gesture intended to reduce the visual length of the wall.
Tectonic Surface is a play on our perception of surface, depth and materiality. It presents a series of contradictions: between the physical flatness of paint and its illusory depth; the thinness of its coating and solidity of the wall; its varying visual transparency and opacity; the tectonics of construction and the atectonic painted surface.
Painting the wall was as much about concealing the surface as it was about revealing it, or allowing it to reappear. The painting superimposes its own constructional logic upon that of the concrete and brick, but never fully assumes one system over the other – both are on simultaneous display.
When looking at it from a distance, we perceive it as a series of 'boxes' or windows that appear to recede into the wall. I wanted to demonstrate that this perception is in part, a decision or choice made by the viewer as well: we visually and mentally 'erase' the pattern and our awareness of the concrete blocks from our view. The artwork’s introduction of colours, geometries and spatial effects effectively dematerialize the concrete blocks. Leaving parts of the wall exposed acts as a sort of reminder of the reality of the wall, drawing attention back to its tectonic construction, which people probably did not pay much attention to before.
Finally, Tectonic Surface challenges our preconceptions of foreground and background, questioning what constitutes art versus architecture, and the traditional idea that a painting must fit within a defined rectangular frame. Here, where the painting ends and begins is ambiguous, because the concrete blocks and doors inevitably become a part of the composition.
I am interested in the idea of transforming spaces into more visually engaging environments through the simple act of re-surfacing. I hope to demonstrate through my murals that despite how thin, vulnerable and non-functional a surface treatment can be; it has the potential to shape the architectural experience. It can turn uninteresting spaces into memorable places through aesthetic reinvention or renewed character and identity. If not through sensorial effects, then at a minimum, through the interrogation of otherwise invisible sites that fall into the blurry background of daily life.