• Steven Heller

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?

The 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.