The Writing on the Walls

Driving down Capital Boulevard as it snakes toward downtown Raleigh can be an exercise in patience. Its tendrils of exit ramps bring to mind M. C. Escher’s studies of infinity. The gritty stretch of road, home to furniture warehouses and auto repair shops, is a busy main artery into an urban center undergoing a creative renaissance.

Photos by Jeffrey WilliamsonIt’s also home to one of seven quote murals celebrating the Museum’s Escher exhibition, now on view through January 17, 2016. Above the fa§ade of the rainbow-painted screen-printing shop AHPeele Studios, a bright spot on the stretch of concrete, Escher’s words warn: “Sometimes ‘beauty’ is a nasty business.”*

The Museum brought the public art project to life with the help of Raleigh Murals Project, local businesses Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co.Videri Chocolate FactoryAHPeele StudioBLDG Co.Holder Goods & Crafts, FEED, The Pink Building, and artist David Eichenberger

The goal: Use quotes from Escher about his art, inspiration, and creative process to inspire conversation, spark curiosity, and foster community spirit in the area’s urban design scene, and track the community’s response with the hashtag #NCMAescher.

It’s a challenge Eichenberger was immediately up for. Even though the murals are made up solely of text, the illustrator wanted to make the words into art themselves.

“I could have just looked up a Helvetica or Times New Roman font, but I really wanted something that was a little more fun, in the spirit of Escher,” Eichenberger said. “It was like a special investigation in illustration.”

Advice like Trophy’s quote, “You have to retain a sense of wonder; that’s what it’s all about,” and playful questions like the FEED building’s “Are you sure that a floor cannot also be a ceiling?” were a good starting point for out-of-the-box thinking.

“The murals forced me to think a little bit differently than I normally do, while also considering the composition, layout, and how it’s balanced on a huge wall instead of a piece of paper,” he said. “Here, the font was really the biggest part of the creative process.” He studied examples of text from Escher’s prints, creating a custom font inspired by wood-block printing. He enlarged the font and printed it out onto copy paper, then used 3M Super 77 adhesive spray to hand-cut each letter onto chipboard. The homemade stencils were then applied using red, pink, black, blue, and white paints.

The murals, which make for a fun walking tour of downtown Raleigh neighborhoods, cover a variety of surfaces, including a wooden fence, the concrete side of a nano-brewery, and the sliding doors of a pop-up art gallery, all finished off with Escher’s signature.

“I used his actual signature, which was featured in a portrait he did of his dad. I took it to my scanner to enlarge it and then traced it out by hand,” explains Eichenberger, who had to adapt to the lefty’s slanted signature. “I pretty much memorized it and did it freehand for the murals, which is where my illustration background really came in.”

Check out all of the murals in person using the project’s Google map and online with the Instagram hashtag #NCMAescher, and hear more from the artist, Raleigh Mural Project’s Jed Gant, and business owner Chris Powers in the video below.

*All quotations © 2015 The M. C. Escher Company, The Netherlands. All rights reserved. www.mcescher.com  

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