Annotated Guide to the mural at 520 lofts
Located at 520 Hamilton Street in Allentown, PA, this 2080 square foot mural titled “Dare Mighty Things” was commissioned by City Center in connection with the 520 Lofts. The work is installed in the north stairwell of this brand new space, visible from the Hamilton Street side. This mural was designed to be a bold statement piece, connecting historical and thematic references to create a unique viewing experience, from both the interior and exterior of the space. This mural project was closely connected with the community of Downtown Allentown, with participation from Central Elementary School, the Baum School of Art, the Bradbury Sullivan Center, and the residents of the 520 Lofts.
This mural is about connections and juxtapositions, reimagining and remixing imagery in a new way. Some of the main inspirations include 70’s and 80’s music poster design, pop art screen prints, pattern design, and indigenous art. The work also incorporates the scale and architecture of the space to push the boundaries of the two-dimensional composition. Local and historical references are scattered throughout the work, and the different levels are connected by continued patterns as well as shared concepts. The following is an insight into the ideas and references explored in this work, beginning on the ground floor and continuing up the stairwell.
The Feminine Foundation: Ground Floors
The main feature of the bottom two floors of the mural space is this dynamic face, (seen here in a compiled image). The pop art influence is seen in the style of this section, resulting in a modern poster-girl image. This figure is the inviting introduction to the mural, (and the building). The inspiration and reference for this face is my beautiful wife, and this painting was actually part of my marriage proposal.
This ground floor section is inspired by tile design, comprised of colors that will be seen throughout the mural. This section is painted as obscured signage for the first floor entrance, hiding representations of the number one in the tile collage. This idea of the "anti-sign" is seen throughout the mural, in the areas near the doors. Viewers are encouraged to find the floor numbers in the designs.
This collage-style image is an homage to vintage movie posters, with a symbolic twist. The sounds fly out of the nostalgic phonograph as fighter planes, as the conductor directs the symphony. The conductor is a play on King Kong, not as a savage beast, but as sophisticated auteur.
On the next level up, the pattern on the side wall continues (from the bottom level), and is a good example of how I used certain patterns to connect one level to another, while introducing new designs. Also, you’ll notice the eyes of the face seem to follow you wherever you stand in the space.
This corner mixes layers of geometric and organic designs. I imagined a flower garden below a ornate window, and I played with the scale and style to create this scene. The large red/orange background shape continues in the section above, as does the lower jaw of the crocodile, (more on that to come).
This is the transition to the 2nd Floor. A unique challenge of this mural space, was how to make the art interesting from the exterior of the building as well. By continuing the lower jaw to the level below, I was able to fit the giant head into the space, and have it been seen from Hamilton Street. When inside, I wanted it to seem like you are walking in or out of the croc’s mouth.
in the Crocodiles jaws: second Floor
This section is an homage to the Crocodile Rock concert venue, which was formerly located at the site of the 520 Lofts. The posterized and collaged depiction of a Nile crocodile is a centerpiece of the mural composition, playing with the viewer’s sense of scale inside the space.
This is a representation of the Egyptian Plover, a bird that is thought to have a symbiotic relationship with the Nile crocodile. The croc allows the bird eat the food stuck in the croc’s teeth. The plover gets a meal, the croc gets its teeth cleaned.
This stylized fish dangles from a fishing hook. This section explores the idea of advertising as bait, using media as a filter.
the cosmic concert: third Floor
In another nod to “Croc Rock”, this level depicts a metaphysical concert scene. With an eager crowd juxtaposed with the surface of the moon, the cut out designs and shapes recreate the artistic version of the energy of a live music show.
This is the band in this wild scene, the juxtaposition of a stage dive and a moon landing. In a nod to the collage style of DIY concert flyers, the characters are compilations of various images. The singer is part grunge, part mod, and part astronaut and he stage dives into the crowd and/or onto the moon. The guitarist is part deep sea diver as he smashes his instrument to show the frantic energy of this level.
twin Bears and totems fourth floor
This take on a totem pole incorporates the hall light into the wings of the totem bird. This is an example of how I tried to use the space in the stairwell in an interesting way. The inspiration for this section is explained below.
These twin bears were painted with the help of students from the Baum School of Art and Central Elementary School. The bears are painted on "parachute cloth", a method of painting on flexible cloth panels that are then permanently installed to a mural space. I chose a bear as a subject matter because I wanted to play with the scale of the space in relationship to the viewer and the painters. I liked the idea of young students creating something much larger than them in a realistic scale (the painting is about the size of a real grizzly bear standing). There is also a thematic connection between the totemistic designs on this level (bears were often used in totems). Also, there is a conceptual link with the level above, which depicts Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
This section of the mural is an ode to the art of the indigenous people of the coastal Northwest U.S. This ancient style incorporates totem and animal imagery and I used this as an inspiration. This totem face utilizes the black railing as a form line. The image is made of layers of design. The large face is made of fish, an orca, birds, and decorative designs. The face has eyes, nose, and a big row of teeth in a grin. It even has a gold tooth. This is my modern take on an ancient tradition.
Groups from the Baum School of Art, Central Elementary School, Bradbury Sullivan Center, and 520 Loft residents and staff participated in “paint days” in which they created in a “paint-by-numbers” style. On the 4th and 5th levels, these groups helped to make the murals come to life.
teddy with color: fifth floor
Theodore Roosevelt visited Allentown on April 11, 1912 on a “whistle stop” train tour and he spoke to a crowd of thousands. This image is inspired by a photograph taken of the former President at the Hotel Allen on 7th and Hamilton Streets. The architecture of the 520 Lofts was inspired by the historic Hotel Allen.
In this poster version of Roosevelt, the folds of his jacket sleeve create a mountain-scape as an ode to his creation of the National Parks system in the American West. Also, if you consider the geographic location, he is pointing to the spot of his speech in 1912 (west down Hamilton Street).
response to superstition: sixth floor
This level continues the visual mash up theme by utilizing bright colorful patterns with black and white imagery. The circle cutout depicts a steam train, as a reference to Roosevelt’s “whistle- stop” tour of the Lehigh Valley. The color palette on this level is also repeated in other levels.
This image plays into a main theme of the mural, which is the juxtaposition of varied elements in an interesting way, much like a concert poster. It also connects to some other elements of the mural, namely, the native American inspired designs of the 4th floor. This specific image plays on the mythology that early Native people didn’t want their photograph taken (as it will capture their spirit in some way). This image turns that idea around, as the subject becomes the reporter, reversing the power.
punk renaissance: seventh floor
This top level is a reference to the crude photocopy collages of punk rock flyers and fan zines. In my version, I have mixed the punk aesthetic with references to the Italian renaissance. This figure combines Michelangelo’s David and the Ramones.
At the top of the mural stands Venus in boots with umbrella, a collage of classic sculpture with rock and roll style. As with the bottom-most figure, the top- most figure represents the power of the feminine.