Did you know that there has been a collaborative mural happening at Spalding House?
For the past five weekends, beginning on July 13, the walls of the tennis-court-transformed Surface Gallery have been evolving through the combined efforts of random and not-so-random volunteers. The premise for Topical Animals, process-wise, was that I would create line contour drawings of animal species living on O‘ahu and museum visitors would be invited to complete them in color. In the initial stages of the mural, helpers took on the role of “colorists” to my Bob Ross black gesso creatures. The variety of approaches to the task of coloring has been happily surprising. The stylistic diversity is appropriate, in harmony with the species diversity the mural alludes to.
You might be able to identify a particular assistant’s work by finding a pattern in how certain animals are painted. For instance, there are a series of boldly drippy creatures, the intentional trademark of a dedicated Haley who spent full days contributing her talents to the project. To start, look for the mongoose that appears to be raining on a man or the goat crying a partially patriotic mash of latex mascara. Many assistants have given the goat a spin. Gideon Gerlt, who will be the next Orvis Artist in Residence, supplied depth to melon-headed whales and a honu with vibrant washes. Another assortment of animals display lusher paint handling by artist Boz Schurr. Laura Hughes helped to make Mr. Marlin less blasé and add pigment riches to a coqui that has now been overrun with green shrubbery.
A few visitors spent but marginal time adding their aesthetic signatures, creating unique color patterns, blending hues in their own fashion, or coding a blank creature with personal reference. You might be able, too, to distinguish freestyle contributions from younger children. Can you spot the Chicken of the Sea? The mustachioed orange kitten? There is also a “very nice” pink bunny in the ocean that appears to be guarding two eagle rays (hihimanu) from a voracious roi. Accidental gems. A number of museum guests have had their first experience painting on site. Artist Andy Lee brought several high school students this past weekend in spite of a drizzle, adding warm hues to unpainted animals, a new shell, tiny zoo creatures in shark cages, and stripes to the unfortunate purple tiger shark. Steffany Chun, the first colorist on the gallery rocks, chose the shark’s color. Its plight was inspired by the Seattle Aquarium shark murder mystery, 2010. A couple of brothers executed a lovely rainbow moth while simultaneously emerging with designer hand-painted clothing. These are just a sample of the many flavors that have brought the mural to life.
Topical Animals addresses the issue of species interaction specific to O‘ahu and the Hawaiian Islands. A letter short of tropical, topical defines: 1) of or belonging to a particular place, local; 2) currently of interest, contemporary; 3) as in medicine, applied to a localized, surficial area of the body; and 4) of, arranged by, or relating to a particular topic or topics. Animal technically defines any member of the kingdom Animalia but commonly refers to any such member aside from a human being. When assigned to a person, animal usually bears negative connotations and its usage reveals a disavowal of some of our own inherent tendencies.
In the Surface Gallery, Topical Animals surficially strives for a visual contemplation of interconnectivity and existing dualities. It depicts animals, whether they are endemic, invasive, accidentally introduced, native, or categorized otherwise, interacting in both realistic and exaggerated or unlikely scenarios. Some of the animals are especially topical, as they were imported to solve problems but in turn created more. It has manifested through the framework of a giant coloring book as cooperative progress, struggle for preservation, destruction/creation, and unexpected beautiful developments. I have heard the saying that if something isn’t growing, it’s dying. Approaching the mural with an adaptive and considerate yet creative response has proven to best extend the growth of this rainbowscape and not stunt its development.
Expect more retroflective blog entries on the progress of the mural.
This is the last week to make your mark in Topical Animals, and I look forward to painting with you! The final day is Aug. 18. You’ll find me in the Surface Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 17 from 10am to 4pm, and on Sunday from noon to 4pm.