The Natural Surroundings Mural

Corbin LaMont and Tom O’Toole – visiting artists/designers

The Natural Surroundings Mural was painted with the Pyramid Youth Program’s Art Camp. The goal for the piece was to create a mural entirely from materials found in and around Green River. Over the course of a week we worked on nature awareness, exploration, resourcefulness, and collaboration, as well as motor and communication skills.

We chose the color palette collectively based on images of the landscape around Green River; the mural represents this group of young artists’ favorite colors found in their town.

We painted the first layer of the mural using brushes hand-made from natural material. For this part of the project we introduced the young artists to environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy with the prompt, ‘What are some ways you can notice the world around you?’ Goldsworthy collaborates with nature and create pieces that only last for a short time.

Before collecting material, we talked about Leave No Trace and what that meant—the main idea being treating nature with respect by sticking to trails, never littering, and leaving wild spaces as you found them. This meant we focused on collecting invasive species and weeds.

After all the young artists collected materials, the next morning we focused on making as many brushes as possible. We knew since these weren’t regular brushes that they would break down pretty quickly once we started painting. All the artists made a minimum of four brushes, with some making over twenty.

As we made brushes we talked about the different strokes different brushes would make: small brushes with only a few plants for thin lines, lots of thick grasses wrapped tightly together to make stronger heavier lines, and large leaves for making unwieldy and wild lines.

For painting the first layer of the mural we wanted to create an abstract, expressionist piece in order to have a unified look between the many artists. By choosing this style everyone got to be represented in their many strokes but also be very connected to the larger group piece. While we painted we reminded the young artists of our introductory presentation in which we showed them the works of Jackson Pollock, and their gestures immediately got refreshingly loose as they focused on feeling over form.

Murals are a very physical way of making art. They demand one uses their strength and stamina. The large community center wall was an enormous undertaking for these young artists to cover in paint. We painted for over two hours, working systematically down the wall. Splitting the wall into three sections, we painted each section for ten minutes apiece per color, covering the wall with five total colors.

Although covered head-to-toe in paint at the day’s end, the young artists all did an incredible job maintaining their attitude and continuing to paint in order to create a beautiful finished product together. The final addition to the mural were local plant species painted by us the following day.

The rich black lines of the top layer help ground the energetic piece and educate visitors about native species one can look for in the desert. Hopefully the representations of these plants help us look closer at our natural surroundings to see what is truly there.