Art Students' Mural of Iconic Route 66 Now Part of Downtown Art-scape
Working on the mural are, from left, instructor Larry Bob Phillips with students Kimberly Crawford and Larry Leija.
The students are from a CNM art class that focuses on sign and mural painting, taught by instructor Larry Bob Phillips. The students created the mural -- called "Sign of the Times" -- under Phillips' guidance.
Depicting examples of the grand tradition of Route 66-era neon signs in a single connected landscape, the artwork is one of several projects that make up “Heart of the City.” Organized by 516 ARTS, Heart of the City is an arts collaboration exploring the urban environment. The effort centers around an exhibition at the 516 ARTS gallery that features a series of artwork created by lead artists with student apprentices or collaborators from 13 organizations representing arts, education and small business.
The exhibition’s grand opening is Saturday, Feb. 1, from 6-8 p.m. at the gallery, 516 Central Ave. S.W.
Phillips said he had been curious about the art of sign and mural painting. When the opportunity emerged for CNM to participate in Heart of the City, he suggested that a mural be the college’s contribution. Paula Smith-Hawkins, associate dean of CNM’s School of Communication, Humanities & Social Sciences, heartily agreed, and he created curriculum for a one-time class to teach students the art form.
“I saw mural and sign painting as something that had to be taught and learned, as well as an expressive visual form that could bring together a varied group of artists,” Phillips said.
And it did. The class, calling themselves “Signs of Life,” met every Saturday during the fall 2013 term. It consisted of eight committed students ranging in age from 19 to 40. One of their first tasks was to pick a theme for the mural. They selected historic signage along Route 66 because Albuquerque is known for having the longest intact stretch of classic signage from the golden age of the automobile, some still in existence.
The class drew individual pictures of signs in black and white, photographed the images and digitally arranged them into a collage.
Next, the students made mockups of the three panels on cardboard, working with the actual paints they would be using on the mural so they would know what the true colors looked like. They painted the wall white where the mural was going to be placed. The final step was to draw the design of the mural over the white area and paint it.
“The students painted directly onto the stucco using quality house paint and regular house painting brushes,” Phillips said. “They learned to work the bristles of the brushes in such a way that they could get the paint into the rough texture of the stucco. The texture was a challenge.”
To reach the 30-foot high mural to do the painting, the students and instructor were lifted on a cherry picker. Students quickly learned who in the group didn’t like heights, Phillips quipped.
Phillips said it took two weeks in November to paint the mural that he expects to last at least 20 years.
The result was a bright and colorful mural that celebrates the glorious but disappearing signs that represent the legacy of Americana in the Southwest.
The CNM mural is one of two murals that are part of Heart of the City. The other was painted by Aaron Noble, a nationally and internationally respected artist known for both his mural projects and his fine art practice. It is located on the south and east facing walls of Warehouse 508 on First Street N.W. between Roma and Marquette. Noble will be speaking about his artwork on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. in Room 100 of Smith Brasher Hall on Main Campus.
The CNM sign painting class also did another piece of art for the Heart of the City project. They created a 10-by-20 foot montage of New Mexico current and historic place names, using plywood and “one-shot” oil based paint – paint that is applied in one shot. Each place name has a different design and is of varying size. The artwork will be on display at the Heart of the City’s grand opening.