Aug 19, 2015

Interview: Jessie Unterhalter, co-creator of Summer Kaleidoscope

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Artist Jessie Unterhalter, who, with her partner Katey Truhn, painted Summer Kaleidoscope at The Oval, sat down for a few minutes to share her thoughts on the process.

Photography and videography by Dave Tavani

Carly: The vibrancy of Summer Kaleidoscope is transforming the public space at The Oval. What were your inspirations for the design of this project?

Jessie: When working on any project, Katey and I like to visit the space before sitting down to design something for it, as we are incredibly influenced by the surrounding architecture and visual landmarks of each place. After visiting the site and talking with Mural Arts Philadelphia and Parks and Recreation Department about the interactive nature of the project, we wanted to make the mural functional but cohesive. We started looking at kaleidoscopic images, and the ways that the image fractures geometrically resonated deeply with us. When looking through a kaleidoscope, the repeating image looks more intricate than it really is, so we based our design off of that concept of repetition and intricacy grounded in simplicity.  Our design is symmetrical and doesn’t follow the kaleidoscope formula exactly, but when walking through the mural, many of the lines meet up and there are several central points.  Our work is always really bright and playful so, of course, we used a ton of colors.

Carly: We often think of murals as existing on walls, but Summer Kaleidoscopeappears on the ground. How does the differing space influence the conception and creation of the mural?

Jessie: In designing a mural for the ground, the rules of composition don’t necessarily apply because the artwork will rarely be seen as a whole. Every bit of the painting will be intimately experienced by those who walk on top of it. It becomes interactive and this element influences our design process more than anything else. We focus on fluid movement of shapes that might imply pathways and constant dynamic transition that keeps the painting interesting from every angle. When designing Summer Kaleidoscope we created more intentional moments of interaction, like chess boards, a maze, and an area for water play.

Carly: The two of you and a team of 20 artists created Summer Kaleidoscope, which covers 33,000 square feet, over a six day period. Walk us through that process of mural construction.

Jessie: We thought the process was going to be crazy and overwhelming because of the six day time limit to prime, paint, and seal the area, but the whole project was so fluid. First off, we could not have done this mural without Kate Jacobi, our project manager extraordinaire. She had a depth of experience with this type of work, and was fully prepared. Before we arrived in Philly, Kate had us map out the coordinates as we were finalizing the design, which meant that when we started measuring it out in the parking lot, we knew where everything had to be. This made things easy because we didn’t have to stress out about implementation! As we were laying the outlines of where everything went, our top-notch crew was filling in all of the shapes. We color coded everything beforehand, and the process was seamless.

Carly: And finally, what was your favorite part of creating Summer Kaleidoscope?

Jessie: Working with the crew! It was such a blast getting to know everyone. We were all working towards the same goal so we really became a team. Everyone worked so hard, and it pushed us to keep going. Even though it was a project with almost comical time limits, it was so much fun.

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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