Interview / Elizabeth Bisegna
May 29th, 2014
Could you describe some highlights of the process with this piece – from conception to execution. (And tell us about your bike trailer!)
I was really excited and flattered that Carrie (W.PA / Principal) and Neeley (UDP / Operations and Leasing; Neighborhood and Community Outreach) asked me for a proposal. They envisioned an art wall that would impart a sense of welcome and completion to the lobby. I knew that the mural would need to bring in some of the bold, graphic lines of the building but perhaps balanced with some softer, warmer elements. It was a challenging, creative process and above all I really tried to do some justice to the building and to the people who would live there.
What’s the story behind the image you chose?
I didn’t have much specific direction from the client so I started with a list of elements that I thought might be important to [the client] Urban Development Partners and to future tenants of the building; I knew that I wanted the art to have a sense of place and to reflect something about living in Portland/the Northwest. UDP’s stated mission includes progressive goals about community, sustainability and urban living, so I added those words to the list. I came up with 5 concepts (Mt. Tabor trees; Forest Park in the fog; Paper lanterns on the Willamette; Paper airplanes; Cyclist shadow on a bridge) and I would have been happy to develop any of them. Of course, if you have seen my portfolio from the past 4 years or so, it’s clear that I like drawing pictures of bikes, so I was definitely happy with UDP’s selection of the cyclist/shadow/bridge idea. They especially liked the abstract possibilities in the image and throughout the design phase they pushed me further in that direction. Neeley in particular had a clear sense of what the building needed and I really thank her for being a great editor and collaborator. As with all of my work, I like to start with really concrete details and then embellish as needed. Portland’s Hawthorne bridge is the model for the metal grating and the shadow/structure in this image. My Trek Pilot is the model for the bike.
What were you listening to while working on this mural?
To date, about 160 hours of podcasts: Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio, Death, Sex & Money, 99% Invisible, History of English Podcast, This American Life, Third Coast International, Strangers, New Yorker Fiction, Dinner Party Download, The Splendid Table, Snap Judgment, The Moth, Risk
Aside from this piece, what mediums/ideas do you tend to work with? Is this mural an unusual project (in size/scale, time, energy, concept)?
I usually call myself a poster artist or an illustrator. I work with cut paper to create graphic work, usually with a strong communication element, or an obvious hook. I create posters, ads, album covers and illustrations for print and publication. The content of this mural is of course pretty familiar territory for me, but the complexity, the level of abstraction and the scale of the work were all way outside of my comfort zone, deliberately. I think that going into it I only partially realized what a different kind of design challenge it would be. Instead of bold, eye catching graphics with an obvious message I was trying to create something that people would walk past every day, that was open to interpretation and that didn’t try to say too much, too loudly. I wanted to invigorate the space but in a moderated, calming way.
Do you think this project has affected the art you’ll create in the future, the projects you’ll take on, and the way you view your work?
Yes, yes yes! As soon as I started working on this wall I felt like I had found a new calling. I am actively seeking more big painting projects to work on. At the same time, little projects are piling up having been neglected for the past 5 weeks as I have been wrestling with this monster.
You mentioned a few art projects/commissions coming up. Could you tell us about the piece you’re working on inspired by Picasso’s deconstructed bull?
Thanks for remembering that conversation! I have been asked to put on a show at a new gallery in my home town of Mount Vernon, Washington. I have been providing pro-bono poster design for their downtown committee for a few years now so there are a group of involved citizens there who are very familiar with my art. I am working on a new “progressive” paper cut that will be presented as a series of slides, animating the evolutionary process by which a whale loses its legs (they were land mammals before they returned to the sea). Like the Picasso bull, which was a series of lithographs all done on the same stone, this will be a series of images all cut from a single sheet of paper.
When you’re not working on art:
Cooking, gardening, biking, trail running, anything with Eric
Any last thoughts?
I will be 40 in three years.
I will have biked about 300 miles all together to and from the site, by the time the mural’s done!
b: 1977, Seattle, WA
bfa: 2001, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
stp: I’ll ride my 5th Seattle to Portland with my mom this year
m: getting married next year to the love of my life