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Murals in the Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Artist Jer Giles paints Big Tex about every three years for the State Fair of Texas. Between those years, he touches up?for instance Big Tex? boots this year. And between Texas State Fairs, for the past 20 years, Giles creates murals and decorative finishes?from the subliminal to the sublime to the wonderfully outrageous.

?I do the same that an artist who paints your portrait,? Giles said. ?The background is just a mush color, and your eye can?t focus on that mush because there?s no hard edge. So, you focus on the portrait of the person.?

?My rooms do the same thing. If the wall is soft and out of focus, then the art work that you hang on the wall or the furniture that you put in the room is where your eye focuses, instead of on a flat?white or beige?wall. Adding color makes you focus on the furniture or artwork. If there?s a little color movement through the wall, then your eye can follow that movement?to the art.?

When working in a new or remodeled home, Giles likes to keep a plastic bag of color chips corresponding to the fabrics and furniture to get a feel for the color ranges in the room and pull those colors out on the wall. For instance, if he knows that a particular chair is going near a particular wall he knows where to put the colors.

?I think of it as abstract art,? Giles said. ?If you sit down and study a rock?get down real close and look at the rock?you can almost imagine that rock could be a piece of abstract art work, even though it?s a natural thing.? And the neat thing about painting a piece of nature, especially in a home, is expanding the scale.

?I can make the scale right to fit the room, where as if I wall paper or put on one color, I don?t have the option of scale any more,? Giles said. ?Scale is very important.?

?I?ve done some powder baths that look like stone but I don?t paint in all the stones,? Giles said. If you paint the room full of stones, it would be very claustrophobic. ?If you paint only a few, you?ve got something to look at and then you?ve got a wall section that doesn?t have a lot of detail?a rest. ? In essence, the overall pattern gives the area focus?a place where you want your eyes to look.

?That?s the problem I have with wall paper,? Giles said. ?Wallpaper looks really good on the drawing board when you?re designing it because you see only one repeat. Once you get it on the wall, in my mind, the scale is wrong. It should be a lot bigger than it is. When I?m doing a room that?s got stone or something that repeats like stone, there is some measurement/dimension somewhere in that room that will tell me how big the stone?s got to be. For example, a wall might be a certain width. And then there?s a little short wall somewhere. Well, that little short wall needs to be one brick or one block. You don?t walk in and say arbitrarily it?s got to be nine inches wide.?

In the early 1980?s, few home homeowners requested faux finishes, Trompe l?oiel, or wall murals, according to Giles. Initially, designs tended to be very subtle with minimal color; but after awhile, people loosened up to the idea of using more color. So today, both ends of the spectrum are popular?the dramatic treatment and a return to the very subtle albeit with more color differentiation than in the basic glazed texture.

?I?ll paint a wall where the corners drop off a little bit,? Giles said. ?They?ll be a little darker, and the center will be a little lighter, or it?ll look like it?s kind of a cloudy sky?to simulate natural plaster. When plaster ages, it takes on a patina that?s not one color. It ages in spots.?

About 50% of people who choose faux painting in their house add a mural or some dramatic statement, usually in one area. To cover an entire house with murals is very unusual?only 2 in 20 years, according to Giles recollection. On the other hand, Giles often paints a house for the look of worn edged age?a home built, perhaps, 250 years ago. He uses many overlaying coats of paint and builds in props. For a European wine cellar conversion, Giles sculpted rocks out of cement over an expanded metal lath. Naturally, the rocks feel cold because Giles wanted the illusion to go that far.

Another Giles illusion is Mini Mort created in the den of a ranch style home. A mural of the Dallas skyline is painted on one wall and in the ceiling is a facsimile acoustical cloud based on the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Translucent panels with lights behind them create the glow of marble in the facsimile.

Depending on the scene, murals can take a room setting just about anywhere, perhaps an alley in New Orleans between two buildings with windows or on a rooftop. Murals are particularly suited to irregular dimensions like the round wall around a staircase or in the powder bath. Because baths are often odd in shape and claustrophobic in size, a mural provides a scene to look at or a tower to complement the confined space.

Giles? interest in painting scenery began in Huntsville, Alabama, where he and his classmates started a high school theater. As the show?s designer, Giles built props and painted sets. By the 1970?s, Giles was working on opera sets for the Dallas Civic Opera?four new sets in one year, which is unheard of today. So, Giles continues painting sets in other venues?like the Grand Canyon suite for a children?s canoe ride at the Texas State Fair, which runs from September 28 through October 21.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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