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« Renaissance on the South Side, Literally Calling All Documentarians »

Feature Mon Apr 07 2008

An Interview with Augustina Droze

Fields of grapes, race cars, wildlife, Baroque-style cherubs: Chicago muralist Augustina Droze has painted these subjects, and many others, for both commercial and individual clients that have included princes, the poor of India, a family in Naperville, and even President Bush. A Detroit native and former student at the Art Institute of Chicago, Droze has also lived and/or studied in India, Cincinnati, and Barcelona, and in her travels has adopted a style that is reminiscent of the Renaissance era. Recently she took some time out of her travels and projects to answer a few questions about her craft.

How did you decide to focus on murals instead of smaller works?

Murals are better canvases than smaller paintings. I like the room for expression that working with such huge spaces provides. It is also a very non-elitist art form, in that a mural forces everyone who passes by it to make an aesthetic and emotional judgment, whether they have an affinity to art or not. In my opinion, public and commercial spaces provide the greatest forum for reaching a wide and diverse audience.

How do you find places that want murals, and how do you negotiate with them to get the image they want?

I am typically approached by a client who has a specific wall selected for a mural. Sometimes they have a theme in mind. Otherwise, I provide them with some reference material and a variety of designs so that they can make a decision about what direction they should take.

What was your first mural project, when was it, and what can you remember thinking?

My first mural project was in 1999. I wasn't sure what to expect, to be quite honest. It was a ceiling medallion, and everything I painted was crooked. Painting something so permanent was frightening. Since then I have definitely perfected my skills, and I come equipped to every project with the appropriate tools.

Which do you find more challenging -- small or large works?

Nowadays, I find painting smaller paintings more challenging. The small scale of a frame-able canvas seems restricting. During the years that I have primarily been painting murals, I have concentrated less on my oil paintings, but recently I have been working on a new body of work that I will be sharing in the coming months.

You're quite a world traveler. What are some of your favorite places (visually speaking), and how do you think your travels have influenced your style or choice of subjects?

By far, my favorite place to be is India. The contrast between extreme beauty and extreme sadness is striking. Beyond the visual elements, the devastating poverty of India has influenced the way I view the world and the way I view art; it opened my eyes to the fact that I have a useful talent that can be harnessed to help societies in need, both here and abroad. I have decided to focus my energy more towards using public art to make a positive change in our world.

In largely illiterate societies, the arts play an important role in disseminating social lessons. For example, in Kenya, the visual and performing arts are crucial in fighting HIV transmission; artists teach villagers -- through song, drama, and painting -- that they should wear condoms.

Do you ever get strange requests for murals of the "can you paint my maltepoo waltzing with Chuck Klosterman while surrounded by chocolate bunnies and aliens" sort?

I have had many strange requests -- although the oddest murals I have created I happily designed myself. A very artistic couple who owned a gallery commissioned me to paint several murals in their home a few years ago. They placed no restrictions on me. In their front foyer, I painted a scene of animals taking over the world, with an unfurling banner that read, "veni, vidi, vici." Their front porch ceiling became a bizarre celestial scene of the phases of womanhood, complete with an embryo and umbilical cord, nude obese women, and skeletons. Not quite what you would expect in a perfectly appointed suburban home!

How did you end up painting a mural in India?

The project in India was a joint project I did with the Child Aid Foundation, which is a school for orphaned and needy children in Andra Pradesh. To enhance the emphasis on literacy, we decided to create a large mural on the school premises. This created a big buzz, with the story making the second page of The Hindu, which is a major newspaper in India.

And the mural for President Bush?

That project was a transportable mural I painted with children from around the world at the World Children's Festival in Washington, D.C. I did this project in collaboration with the International Child Art Foundation. I worked with a team of bright and creative children from the United Arab Emirates and Latvia. We created a mural focused on the theme of global dialogue and cross-cultural relations.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I'm working on a series of commercial and residential projects. I'm designing a mural that depicts various medical and holistic health procedures for a large health center in Michigan. I'm also taking some time to focus on my new collection of oil paintings.

Last question: Are any of your public murals in Chicago?

Most of my public projects have been in other states and countries. And, unfortunately, most of my murals in Chicago are in private residences. I have some public projects in the works, though!

About the Author:

A native of Johnstown, PA, Lauri Apple is a contender for the title, "world's most renowned bag lady," thanks to her somewhat popular (at times) website, FoundClothing. Lauri has a JD and doesn't know why, but it will take about 30 years for her to pay it off, and that worries her. Her favorite cities are Prague, Pittsburgh, Austin and Chicago. When she's not looking through people's trash, she's either painting, taking pictures, or making/thinking about making cartoons about her weird life.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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