Jun 27, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Tribute to Frank Guarrera

by: RJ Rushmore

Because it’s Throwback Thursday today, our Mural of the Day on Instagram and Facebook is a mural that was decommissioned earlier this year when its building had to undergo repairs. Tribute to Frank Guarrera by Peter Pagast went up in 2003. For more about Pagast and Tribute to Frank Guarrera, here’s an excerpt from a profile of the artist by Robin Rice, published in More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell, ca. 2006 Temple University Press:

[Pagast] habitually studies the work of other artists. “If you look at something daily, it is a learning experience. I get as close as I can and try to figure out how the painting is done.” For him, few can match the skills of turn-of-the-twentieth-century American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.  Sargent was revered for his ability to capture a likeness in which psychological insight is matched by elegance and bravura. “I’ve heard that Sargent would finish the face and then add on brush strokes at the end to make it look like it was effortless,” Peter muses.

Peter may finish portraits that way, but he begins a mural using the traditional grid method to enlarge a drawing. “I like to paint directly on the wall because I can see it all. I break it into three tones: dark, middle, light. I just keep breaking it up and seeing the subtleties.”

His Tribute to Frank Guarrera (2003, 1532 S. Broad), represents the legendary baritone in five signature roles, including that of Escamillo from Bizet’s Carmen in which he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1948. The cape of the toreador in his suit of lights drapes dramatically out of the frame of the picture and over a projecting curb running along the bottom of the wall.

The lighted arches of Lincoln Center can be seen behind the largest smiling image of the handsome star with a rosebud in his buttonhole. Juxtaposing a half-dozen likenesses of the same face at different ages and in different guises while still conveying the idea of a singular personality is a portrait decathlon, and Pagast rose to the challenge.

In Philadelphia, most portrait murals are posthumous; you have to be a real role model and a lucky one, to be painted while you’re alive. Frank Guarrera, at the end of his career, fortunately lived to see this tribute, which was facilitated by the Frank Guarrera Society and friend Angela G. DeVita who “rallied the support and appreciation for the mural. Guarrera loved that mural,” Peter reports with satisfaction.

Photo by Steve Weinik

Rice, Robin. “Aspects of American Muralism: Artist Profile—Peter Pagast.” More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Page 34. Print.

Last updated: Feb 3, 2016

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