A white sheet hung in the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (building 180) foyer for two weeks, waving in the wind with each open and close of the doors throughout the day. It hid the new mural commissioned by the College of Science and Mathematics (COSAM), waiting patiently until May 26 when people could finally see its colorful 22-by-6-foot panels.
Designed by Denver-based artist and muralist David Ocelotl Garcia, the mural combines his passion for fusing nature and science in his work. Garcia said he takes pride in being able to capture the movement of nature on multiple mediums. Inspired by quantum physics, Garcia seemed the perfect fit to design a mural for the COSAM.
“I see art—even though it is a design— I almost see it as an interpretation of what energy looks like if you would be able to make it stop or give it some sort of visualization,” Garcia said. “Obviously we can’t see it with our own eyes. This idea is something I connect with, that I can give energy an actual shape and can make it into a composition that tells a story.”
The sizable mural was the idea of COSAM Dean Phil Bailey, who will retire from Cal Poly at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. In addition to encouraging the mural, Bailey spearheaded building the Faculty Offices East and Baker Center. He also started the “Study 25-35” campaign and assisted underrepresented students financially and otherwise when completing their degrees at Cal Poly.
During Summer 2016, Bailey approached Exhibits and Campus Arts Curator Catherine Trujillo with the idea to fill the empty wall space above the physics department office with a mural promoting diversity and inclusivity.
Trujillo saw Bailey’s vision through by calling upon students and members of Black, Chicano, Latino, Pride, Asian Pacific Islander and Indigenous faculty staff associations. About eight members from the various groups were present during a meeting to discuss ideas for the mural.
This selection committee developed a request for proposal (RFP) for a mural that was sent nationwide in search of artists to commission the piece.
Creating the mural
The project was no easy task, as part of the requirement of the artist was to complete the finished mural very quickly; the RFP was sent in January with the hopes of revealing the mural in late May. The artist also had to complete the finished mural in their own studio and ship it in panels to the university. The committee wanted elements of diversity, inclusivity and community in the mural, so applicants had to create three renditions of the concept and submit a written narrative explaining their designs.
Despite the tough requirements, Trujillo was pleasantly surprised by the number of applicants.
“We got lots of questions by telephone,” Trujillo said. “Artists were really excited. I sent the RFP out and got 42 responses back. I thought there would be a dozen.”
Trujillo explained that commissioned art is rare on campus, but because of this project, she designed a proposal process for future commissioned murals.
Garcia was chosen based on his interest in science and insight into the diversity and inclusivity themes. Garcia’s website describes his work as “modern, figurative, narrative, abstract, tribal, surreal, geometric and contemporary. His art is culturally diverse, inspired by tradition, history, nature, balance and everyday life.”
“In my work I like to speak nature, science and geometric forms. For this particular mural, I pulled out nature, science, math, cultural interaction, community and diversity of people,” Garcia said.
His flow of shapes, vibrant colors and abstract figures caught the eye of the multicultural committee.
“His work was very, very colorful,” committee member Camille O’Bryant said. “There was no real way to connect with a specific gender or ethnicity. It wasn’t like he had a bunch of black, brown and green people, you know? The shapes were geometric and abstract in the way that reflects sciences and the arts. It had a nice blend of color, dimension, breadth, perspective, but also had a scientific feel because a lot of the imagery in there reflects the disciplines, not just in our college, but at Cal Poly.”
Garcia’s renderings proposed mirror images, as to suggest incomplete work or the same image on either side of the centerfold. Trujillo, the art curator, facilitated communication between Garcia and students, faculty and staff about their opinions and ideas for the piece to include them in the artwork and creative process.
“I am a means of creating a visualization, like manifesting an idea,” Garcia said. “I use this base information, but it becomes a partnership. We work together to create it. Creating murals and creating images is about feeling, but I have to be able to feel what you’re telling me. The students and faculty will be able to tell me what to feel and what it is I made.”
Working with these groups, Garcia created specific themes within the greater concept. These themes include representation of the Chumash American Indian population through the symbol of a sea shell and a butterfly, representing the undocumented student community.
Garcia said the mural is titled “Integrated Visionaries” because he wanted the viewer to recognize themselves in the art’s abstract figures. Garcia called his concept the integration of humankind, which is the morphing of shapes to draw a larger metaphor about society.
“You will see a face made up of different portions of different faces,” Garcia said. “The nose, the mouth and that sort of thing. It creates the silhouette of a face, but also symbolizes people from different cultures, colors and genders. It comes together as the central figure in the mural.”
Trujillo travelled to Denver while Garcia was painting the mural, recording his process and interviewing him throughout. His sketches were sent to the campus art collection so students could review them and give feedback. Trujillo said she wanted the students to feel like they were a part of the artistic process through this video documentation because Garcia was working on the mural in his Denver studio. The video was shown on the day of the unveiling, allowing students to be immersed into the piece like Garcia was.
“It is a teaching collection,” Trujillo said.