Studio updates from visual artist Mark Guglielmo

My Public Art Project for the City of Loveland, Colorado

I am very excited to have been awarded a public art commission by the City of Loveland, Colorado to create two custom photo-mosaic murals, each four by eight feet long, for permanent display in the lobby of their Chilson Recreation Center. I was selected out of 213 applicants. It's a tremendous honor and my first public art commission.

They wanted art that would be "vibrant," "full of movement," and that captured the activities that take place in the rec center. I proposed doing 2 mosaics that were essentially portraits of regular townspeople engaged in their activities in the center. This way, the pieces could be an homage to the citizens of the town for many years to come. Children will be able to see themselves portrayed in the pieces 50 years from now, while the elderly can be remembered visually long after their gone. 

The facility is very unique in that it houses all generations of people, including a pre-school and a senior center, along with multi-purpose gyms, basketball courts, a pool, racquetball, dance studios, pottery, billiards, ping pong, etc. I also wanted to portray the three stages of life: childhood, middle age, and old age since the facility attracts all ages. 1,400 people a day walk through the hallway that will house the pieces, connecting the main entrance to the center, so the pieces needed to be universal and have wide appeal. Here I demonstrate the 3 potential locations where the 2 framed mosaics could be hung when finished, one view in each direction from the lobby to the gyms.

I flew out in early November to present my proposal. I returned in late January to take the photographs. I made 3 visits to the rec center on 2 separate days, spending about 12 hours capturing 3,500 photographs in total. I made sure to get a wide spectrum of activities and to capture people of different ages and backgrounds.

I also got images of the building's exterior, as well as some pictures of the distant Rockies mountains, nearby trees, plants, grasses, and shrubs. I wanted to have the option of portraying the physical location of the building, not simply the interior and exterior, but local nature, to give a better sense of place. I ended up developing 2,400 4x6" photographs, and labelled each group of shots according to subject matter, so that I can easily access what I need when I am working on the composition in the studio.

Next comes the process of composing the murals. I had no idea what I would do. I had spent a bunch of time looking through all the images. It helps me get a sense of what ingredients I have and to envision what I will create. But where do you start when you have 2,400 images? I went for the people, assembling portraits of a bunch of the people that I had photographed up close. That gives me a good sense of which portraits are strong, and are begging to be seen. I realized early on that it would be the people that will draw you in to the artwork. The physical building, while having an extremely valuable purpose, is not that physical beautiful. It's the people that fill the space with soul and meaning.

At this stage, everything is in flux, every image is considered, and I'm moving slowly forward, sometimes backwards, adding and subtracting, trying different ideas, letting the creative spirit move me. I am not married to any end goal or end product, I am simply allowing the images to speak to me, to tell me what to do. If my eye likes what it sees, I explore it further. If I don't like what I see, the balance is off, or the energy is dead, I retreat and head in another direction. It's like groping in the dark, feeling the contours of the wall to find out where to go. Looking for the light, being present to the flow, getting comfortable with being lost. In this stage, there are many discoveries, many moments of joy as pieces come together.

I take breaks to gain perspective. I work for long and short periods of time, depending on my mood and what I have planned for the day. Sometimes I become so absorbed I lose track of time. I become one with the piece. My looking takes me over and I am simply the observer. I have to come back into my body and check my posture. Many times I've strained my back working on these mosaics, because they're large, they require me to bend over them to interact with the pieces and tape and untape them. I'm midway through the first mosaic now, and will post an update when I'm further along.

Mark Guglielmo