By John Paul Stapleton
Boston, MA – Being a coastal city, the idea of changing sea levels is a real worry for Boston and many of its harbor side buildings.
Ethan Murrow vamped on this as a topic of conversation to accompany his piece for the Art Wall at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
“I wanted to root the drawing in the location of the museum,” Murrow said in a recent phone interview. “The museum is hanging over the Ocean. I knew I wanted to do something aquatic and architectural.”
This inspired Murrow to create another one of his photorealistic wall installations, in which the image is cropped to a circle. In the case of this image, the circle makes the framing of the image resemble that of a seaside window, appropriately giving distance to the scene.
The observer gets the sense that they have nothing to do but question as the focus of the image, Saint Paul’s Cathedral perched on a battleship, is drawn off to the horizon. There is no land in sight, only a trail of disrupted ocean as the building makes its way. Murrow created this image with the intent to get people to ask questions about it — and they did.
“People were talking about the boat, asking what it’s doing and ‘Where is it going?’” Murrow said. “Is it stealing [the Cathedral] or protecting it, and why?”
He wants his image to spark this kind of conversation, not only about the Cathedral, but all buildings in danger of submersion as well. This thought provoking aspect is common for Murrow’s pieces but the size of the image itself is not.
He described this project as his most ambitious in terms of the size. He had help from three other artists in order for him to get it done in time, which presents another problem of keeping it cohesive.
“The whole thing has to come together,” Murrow said. “If we didn’t get the depth of the waves and horizon, the whole idea wouldn’t come together.”
Despite the challenge, Murrow, accompanied by Aaron Houser, Jamal Thorne and Antony Montouri, completed this image in the 11 days they had using mechanical platforms and Sharpie markers. Not only, did they complete it but it cohesively has Murrow’s photorealistic style all the way through.
The realistic aspect of the image and the lens it is framed by gives the observer the sense that they are seeing a picture of Saint Paul’s Cathedral be hauled off by a battleship taken through a window, rather than a fantasy scene of a building on a boat. The image opens up the idea of this being real so that after noticing that is only a drawing, the possibility of relocating buildings in danger of submersion becomes a topic to mull over.
Not only was Murrow successful in provoking thought with his image, but he was also able to use more than just size to draw people to it. As he pointed out, the gray of the sharpie looks to have a purple tone, pushing the space back and making it more warm and inviting. The Sharpie ink also has a light catching aspect that he hoped would catch attention even after the ICA had closed.
“I was hoping at night when the lights were on, you would see it through the window- floating,” Murrow said. “We went out to dinner in the area after working on it and saw that start to happen.”
(Ethan Murrow’s Art Wall installation will be on view through November 27, 2016 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 100 Northern Ave., Boston. For more information, call (617) 478-3100.)