Up Against the Wall

Paula Scher’s recent murals at Queens Metropolitan Campus, a new public
middle school and high school in Forest Hills, were completed last week
as a commission for the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program, in partnership with the NYC School Construction Authority Public Art for Public Schools program. The Pentagram website  notes:

“The two murals are located in an atrium and commons at
the Metropolitan Campus and each cover approximately 2,430 square feet.
One of the murals, a view of the New York metropolitan region with a
focus on Queens, was completed this week; a second, of Metropolitan
Avenue, will be installed in October. In the murals, New York City
sprawls across the walls in vibrant color, wrapping around walls,
corners and ceiling, creating a world in a room. As in her map
paintings, locations in the murals are misspelled or misidentified;
Scher seems to be figuring out the geography along with the students,
creating a joyous sense of recognition that mirrors the
learning process.”

On the first day of school, I asked Scher about the mural and her passion for making public art:

You’ve done a lot of environmental design work lately. Where does this stand in terms of emotional attachment?
I love designing for public spaces.  I have especially enjoyed my work
for schools.  It’s wonderful to create environments that have
emotional impact.  When I went to high school, each day I walked into a
landscape of dirty beige.  No wonder I had trouble staying awake.

How the heck was a mural on this scale produced? I made a
painting that was about 6’X6′.  We positioned a print out of the
painting on a foam core model to see if we liked how it fill ed the
space.  Then after we figured out the positioning of the painting
against roughly 20,000 sQuare feet of space we broke the painting up
into panels that were painted and could be attached to the wall.  The
paintings were made by a mural painter in a rented space in the
Brooklyn Navy yard.  He projected the painting on to a wall and aligned
the panels according to our plan.

I understand the installation went right down to the wire (i.e.
the first day of school). How long did it take to make the mural?
original painting took four months of weekends, The planning, pricing,
designing and sizing of the installation against all of the City
approval, took about a year.  There are two murals and each took the
mural maker around 6 or 8 weeks.

What do you want the viewers – students, teachers, parents – to take away from this?
I hope they are amused delighted and engaged.  That’s all I can hope for.






Daily Heller, Imprint: Print Magazine's Design Blog

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.