Michael Webb; Architectural Muralist

Michael Webb

is the artist who's murals have become a familiar and loved part of my Philadelphia scape; I look forward to seeing them every time I pass one of them, and that can be several times a week. Michael included a self-portrait, at work, in the Beasley Building Mural.

I was charmed by his presentation of his work this evening at the historic Carpenter's Building, his talk was titled Buildings on Buildings; the Painting of Architectural Murals. He is an artist with the Mural Arts Program.

Asked how he plans the figures in his work, he says he sketches them from his imagination, to scale. Once he is satisfied with the design, he will find a model to pose for a photograph. He uses his original sketch when he transfers the figures to the gridded wall; and then only will he or his assistants make any final adjustments using the photo references. This is what keeps his figure work so fresh, rather than projecting photos to enlarge onto the wall.
His own website is sparse; so I'm posting some photos of mine, and several by others I found on flickr; from zepfanman.com, mancalaura, and lb_philly

Click to see these much larger.
These two are murals that depict the *ghost* of St. James Epsicopal Church, that used to occupy this block at 22 and Walnut; its now occupied by Sunoco who commissioned the mural from Susan Maxman and Michael Webb.
The *bricks* are all painted; this is meticulous trompe l'oeil.


Painted Cloths; A Pretty Slight Drollery

A delightful discovery, this illustrated essay on the history of painted cloths*, from Tudor times to the present.
Nicholas Mander, the author, has a unique inside view of the materials and background of paints; his family's business for generations, Manders Paints, is described in interesting detail here.

link Nicholas Mander's essay on the history of painted cloths

link Nicholas Mander's history of Manders Paints and Inks Company great description of the factory and care taken in the manufacture of paints, from the late 1700s.

link Owlpen Manor "OWLPEN has long been recognised as one of England's most romantic manor houses. In 2006 it was voted one of finalists in the Country Life - Savills award for "England's Favourite Manor House".
The Tudor manor (1450-1616) stands with its early formal garden of magnificent yews at the centre of a clutch of medieval landmark buildings. Many are now adapted as quite exceptional award-winning Cotswold holiday cottages. "

*As You Like It
ACT III, SC.ii ]
Orl. Not fo: but I answer you right painted cloath, from whence you have ftudied your queftions.

267 painted cloath ] CAPELL : In the painted Cloth Style. i.e briefly and pithily.
Tapestries are improperly call'd painted cloths: therefore the cloths here alluded to seem rather those occasional paintins that were indeed done upon cloth, i.e. linnen or canvas; and hung out by the citizens ... via google

photos from www.owlpen.com


Sacred Places Tour; Murals, Mosaics and Stained Glass

Click of images to enlarge. Independance Hall, Muslim Mural Lancaster Ave., Amish Farm Stand Powelton Village, MAP mural by Paul Santoleri.

Yesterday, gorgeous, mild, sunny: I visited two churches on a tour presented by Partners for Sacred Places and the Murals Arts Program. We left on a trolley from near Independence Hall, through Powelton Village, Walnut Hill, passing more than a dozen MAP murals.
Composite view showing organ, and down into sanctuary. On the right, stencil pattern.

Calvary Center for Culture and Community is located in the Calvary United Methodist Church at 48th and Baltimore, by architects Brown, Gillespie and Carrell 1905-1906. The Center is in the middle of an ambitious restoration process, already having rebuilt massive gable walls to save the 2 immense Tiffany windows.
The story of how the congregation is dealing with the challenges of maintaining this historic and deteriorating building, while strengthening the community, is well described by Rich Kirk.
The large mural on canvas is of the Sermon on the Mount, by PAFA graduate H. Hanley Parker. He painted other decorative elements in the Sanctuary and Chapel as well. There is a beautiful stained glass dome by Tiffany in the Chapel, detail shown, and a Brothers O'Dell organ.
detail of Tiffany Resurrection Windowcenter section of mural by H. Hanley Parker
Massive scagliola columns in need of repair, mural of Sermon on the Mount, detail of Tiffany Resurrection stained glass window and Trinity Angels dome.

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church a couple of blocks away, is an astounding landmark, with its mulit-colored tiled dome and towers. Susan K. Weiler was our docent, describing the engineering challenges of restoring the dome, and showing her deep love for this beautiful building. Some of the problems in the dome are the consequences of a well-intentioned but ill-suited application of gunnite to the outer dome in the 1960s. This church has the 2nd largest organ in Philadelphia, the largest is the famous Wanamaker organ.

Guastovino tiles on interior ( and exterior ) of dome. "a technique for constructing robust, self-supporting arches and architectural vaults using interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar in a thin skin, with the tiles following the curve of the roof" (Susan mentioned that Guastovino used this technique in many other buildings, including the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. image from tanguero's flickr stream)Susan K. Weiler and elevation plan of dome.
link to wikipedia article on St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.
link to wikipedia article on Guastovino tile.


Theatrical Muslin, Mural Preparation

I use different materials for murals, depending on the size needed, and the surface where they are intended. MDO plywood for rigid panels are great for mounting on exterior walls. Canvas or muslin is suitable when the work is best performed in the studio, and may be rolled and shipped for installation on site.

This is a description of preparing muslin that measures approx 120 inches (10ft) x 192 inches (16ft), as that is the size of my wall. The final mural size will measure approx 6 to 8 inches smaller, after trimming.

There are a several sources of this material, Rosebrand and i Weiss are a couple of excellent theatrical supply houses. For smaller murals, narrower widths are easily available from regular fabric suppliers, and you can save on shipping.

As well as the large size possible with theatrical muslin, I prefer painting on a firm surface, unlike on artist stretchers which are a bit bouncy. Using large wood stretchers are fine, when you have room, and not a large enough flat wall. Canvas is best over stretchers, the muslin will be too thin in that case.

About this wall; homasote cut to fit in 2x4 frames in ... ceiling height is 9ft 6inches, wall is 16 ft wide. The final mural will be trimmed to about 9ft x 15 ft.

All the homasote panels in place. I like homasote because its very easy to staple into, or use push pins, and easy to mend. Its a little lumpy, and drywall is a smoother harder alternative, if a really smooth surface is crucial to you.

Important to smooth seams with tape and joint compound... challenging due to the bumpy surface of the homasote.

Tape a layer of thin polyethlene sheeting in place, as smoothly as possible over the wall.

After the plastic is up, a charcoal line is snapped across the top of the wall, to be the guide in tacking the top edge of the muslin, starting in the center. Tack the center top, then the center bottom, then the corners. The top edge of the muslin is actually perfectly level.. I photoshopped two photos together here which distorts the angles a bit.

For a very large piece of material, using a plumb helps ensure your stretching evenly. The plumb is hanging down the center of the canvas.I snap a charcoal line that will be easily brushed off.. to help guide in the even stretching of this large mural. If I pull to hard, or unevenly while I staple the sides, I can see easily the crooked chalk line.

Working solo to stretch the muslin, requires many trips up and down the ladders.
the muslin is stretched, but not too tightly. Too tight at this stage and your muslin might tear or pull out. The wrinkles will disappear when the many coats of priming are applied.

The following steps are what I do to prime, though you can skip the step with the alkyd.. I learned that step from Pierre Finkelstein, its a lot of work. You could skip it, and do a couple more coats with undiluted primer, if you don't want the trouble of degreasing.

Prep, 1st ct , Fresh Start / Benjamin Moore primer / w 30% water,
2nd ct , " / 15% water /
3rd ct, " / 5% water
4th & 5th cts, Oil based/ BM Dulamel eggshell, or other alkyd primer (light sand between cts)
Then degrease whole thing with whiting. Make sure you get all the whiting off; wipe with a damp sponge till you see NO whiting on the sponge.
Then paint mural with acrylics.
There will be virtually no shrinkage after cutting mural down.

Antonio Mancini at Philadelphia Museum

Last November, saw the exhibition of work at PMA by Antonio Mancini, 1852-1930, and was very intrigued by the range and evolution of styles. There's an article on the show in today's Times, which had me going back to look at some of the photos i shot of the show.

top left; Il Saltimbanco, 1877-78
Antonio Mancini, Italian
Oil on canvas
80 1/4 x 43 5/8 inches (203.8 x 110.8 cm)
Vance N. Jordan Collection, 2004

top right; Mancini would order and eat at a neighbourhood restaurant, and out of funds would pull out some paints and finger paint on the plate for payment.

bottom; portrait of seamstress, and detail. Didn't note the date of the work, but much later than the top one. Startling energy in the painting, and in the detail you can make out the imprint of his grille system, which he called graticola.

" Mancini invented a number of highly personal working methods. One was a device he called the gratìcola—or perspective grid—made of a wooden frame with strings stretched across in all directions. One such frame was placed in front of the subject, while another was placed against the canvas in use. Mancini described this mysterious apparatus variously as a means to obtain the exact perspective of his painted objects or to capture the important element of tone. Very often the artist allowed the marks of the gratìcola strings to show in the finished painting, sometimes subtly, but at other times quite aggressively. In extreme cases these grid marks impart a textured, almost quilted decorative quality to the painted surface."

Apparently, John Singer Sargent stated that Mancini was one of the greatest if not THE greatest painter alive. Link to portrait of Mancini by Sargent.

from Roberta Smith's article, Tumultuous Mind, Spread Across Canvas
"His works tend to be skirmishes of contradictory impulses: academic idealization, gritty realism, bravura society-portrait brushwork and thick, modern-looking impastos slathered and scarred with a palette knife. In some instances it is as if Courbet, Jean-Léon Gérôme and John Singer Sargent — a friend of Mancini’s — have all fallen feverishly to work on the same canvas."

"The Irish dramatist Augusta Gregory, who sat for Mancini in Dublin in 1907, described the way the artist would fix his gaze on some part of her face, back up as much as possible and then advance toward her, gathering speed, his paintbrush outstretched like a sword. “I needed courage to sit still,” she wrote. “But the hand holding the brush always swerved at the last moment to the canvas, and there in its appropriate place, between its threads, the paint would be laid on, and the retreat would begin.”

update; just read a very interesting commentary on Smith's article on ArtblogbyBob
and agree that its amazing that someone so good could be unknown for so long.

Thanks to Curator
Ulrich Hiesinger for presenting Mancini's work to us.

Update; Charley Parker's blog has posted an article on Mancini.


Small Paintings Vermont, Tuscany

Some small paintings, acrylics on canvas. Left to right; Vermont field looking towards Camel's Hump, a guitarist busking in Lucca, and field of flowers in Tuscany.