When the new 3M Design Center, at the St. Paul (MN) headquarters, opened in July 2016, Chief Design Officer Eric Quint wanted something a little special for one of the concrete walls in his new design space. He wanted more than the usual framed artwork, he wanted the space itself to become the frame of a piece of art, something demonstrating the result of real time creativity that happens when people collaborate and let their imagination flow spontaneously. “Collaborative creativity is a theme introduced when I started in my design leadership role at 3M, the idea was to have a piece of graffiti in the Design Center that would reflect the cultural values of our 3M Design team” according to Quint. The uncommon connections between 3M technologies and materials inspired great solutions and art. Have you seen this lamp made of ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape? Or this Urban Trees installation? The possibilities are endless.
Eric wanted one of the walls of the 3M Design Center to remind his design team to be creative without boundaries. So when it came to doing something a little unconventional in the context of a corporate interior design, Eric’s thoughts turned to graffiti. Graffiti has been a firmly established part of the countercultural aesthetic since the ’60s and has been making inroads into the art world since 1979, when graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. For most in Europe, it was their first experience with the art form. The appeal of the irreverent art form — one that’s constantly pushes the boundaries of creative expression — seemed like the perfect fit for a company who encourages unconventional use of technologies and materials into relevant solutions for people.
The 3M Design team tracked down two local artists, Nick Mamayek and Wes Winship. The pair had just founded the Burlesque Public Works Division, which focuses on large scale murals and public art installations. They brought the perfect combination of fine art and graphic art to the project. Nick had spent the past twenty years painting large scale public and privately commissioned murals throughout the Midwest in styles ranging from abstract collages of hard line and organic designs, to lettering, to homage work in which cartoon characters from his childhood are conceptually tied in with song lyrics or news of the day. Wes brought the graphic piece. While working at the legendary Life Sucks Die graffiti magazine, he taught himself how to use desktop publishing and design software, and had founded his own graphic design and screen printing studio (Burlesque of North America).
Once the connection was made with Nick and Wes, it was time to plan out the wall. Following a short talk between the artists and Eric a few creative ideas and key words were exchanged and the artists were given free reign to imagine, design and execute the mural over one weekend. The completed graffiti art piece not only brought some vibrant color and graphics to the space, but was also a way for 3M Design to connect with the local Minneapolis art scene. In the following interview, Nick and Wes talk about their collaboration, approach and sources of inspiration.
What is the inspiration for graffiti art in general and what inspires your work as artists?
Graffiti is traditionally known as an “underground” form of artistic expression, often becoming a visible reflection of emotions or feelings in the community it shows up in. Today, graffiti can be seen in all cities around the globe, straddling an odd line. On one hand, it’s now a recognized and respected art form. On the other, its roots of “paint first, ask questions later” will never be far away. As artists and designers, inspirations come from our everyday life and things like old advertising typography, accidental patterns and shapes found in the urban landscape and nature, comic books, and sharing and building ideas with other creative people in our lives. Graffiti wouldn’t exist without urban environments – it’s often the canvas of the city that you build on. You take inspiration from your surroundings and go from there. Lately you can find the aesthetics of graffiti art becoming more accepted so it’s creeping into interiors as an art form or just to spice up spaces.
Can you tell us more about the collaboration with 3M Design on the mural project and about the challenge you were tasked with?
It all came together very quickly. During the construction of the 3M Design Center a large concrete wall was revealed in the demo, and instead of covering it up, Eric wanted to embrace it and add a mural to their design space. One of the 3M designers was aware of Burlesque of North America and reached out and suggested the creation of a full color mural. Our first meeting with Eric was a short briefing session, maybe 15 minutes, where he gave us a few keywords to work from, but primarily said “Make sure you do something that you’ll be proud of.” We shared some thoughts and explored a few different directions, but then we were left to our own imagination and creativity, along with a box of 3M’s signature ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape, some plastic sheeting and masking, and an air filtrated space in order to create a safe indoor work environment. We were fortunate enough to be given complete creative freedom with the goal being to paint something vibrant and frenetic with bits and pieces of as many different aesthetics as possible.
When putting together a mural, what is your approach to get started and how important is sketching to guide your creativity?
We like to fit the overall shape and flow of the piece to the location so we start with an outline of the area we are painting to sketch over. At the same time, we start compiling ideas for what content will fill the piece. Depending on the job, that can be anything from a list of words and phrases such as script, block letters with 3D, cartoon or illustrative depictions to source images. Sketching is a very critical part of the process as we need to premeditate how and where each portion of content will fit. Lots of the ideas happen real time, spontaneously in a flow while creating the piece.
The mural in the 3M Design Center is expressive and colorful. How important is the use of color in your work, and specifically when creating a project such as this?
Color is huge, though having discipline to know when not to use color is equally as key as using fewer colors and can often times do more in certain areas, let alone the overall piece. The challenge is to find a fine balance in the composition and also use the uncovered concrete as part of it. For the 3M mural, the project demanded the use of a great deal of color to keep the eye busy, with the goal in mind to create an exciting environment for the designers that would soon occupy the space. With this in mind, we brought the entire Sugar Artist Acrylic spray paint line with us. We’d choose a color scheme for each section as we painted it. As it filled in, our choices became increasingly dictated by the finished areas to create an overall balance in the piece. In addition to color, many collage-type murals incorporate textures, shapes, and typography.
The two of you worked on this project simultaneously, how did the creative collaboration and dynamics work out in a project like this?
The plan from the start was to have as many different aesthetics as possible while the overall composition of the piece is broken down into many small sections. We have found that each of us working simultaneously on different ends of the piece then coming together to overlap our paths, and then discussing what options and opportunities we have to expand upon, is the most effective and efficient model for this type of plan. Once the basic form is there, improvisation is key, similar to live jazz music, the art happens right then and there, on the surface. The flow of the moment is directing the art, creating a true masterpiece in real-time. Having two different people, two different personalities/styles involved helps to create a more versatile look, very much within the theme of 3M Design’s “collaborative creativity”.
Is there any ritual or approach when designing and realizing a mural? What part is planned and what is spontaneously created?
It’s not so much of a ritual as it is a formula or a process of premeditation. To arrive at a final concept, we begin by brainstorming and researching, and ultimately drawing a few thumbnail sketches at a time which consist of different general shapes, ideas, etc. Next we polish the ideas that we feel we can expand upon the most. Then, we sharpen the sketches before discussion with our clients. During the painting process there is always a good amount of spontaneity or ad-libbing, whether it be in regards to pairing certain colors together, or seeing an opportunity within the composition to add in a particular design aesthetic, or piece of imagery or typography.
Were there any 3M products or solutions that played a role in this particular installation?
We use a wide range of 3M products for every project that we take on, from respirators to ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape (our personal favorite). In this instance we were given a case of the multiple different types of 3M tapes including the grout, brick, and hard stick surface brands which helped immensely with the raw concrete. Also, the install area was sealed with 3M brand masking and filter materials.
To learn more about the Public Works Division, an offshoot of Burlesque of North America, visit www.brlsqpublicworks.com.