Arts in the Midst of Engineering

School of the Museum of Fine Arts students create a mural in the Science and Engineering Complex’s Robinson Hall
mural made up of many square elements and nearby hallway
“It’s an eclectic, bouncy mix of squares, and we hope it will amuse, intrigue, and perhaps make some engineering students take classes at SMFA,” said Ethan Murrow. Photo: Anna Miller
May 10, 2018

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There’s a new student project on display at the School of Engineering, but it’s not a device or a machine—it’s a mural painted by students of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.

Nine students from SMFA drawing and painting professor Ethan Murrow’s Advanced Drawing—Large Scale class completed the mural, located on a wall in the first-floor corridor of Robinson Hall, over a period of several weeks this spring. “The class tackles issues of drawing in public, making temporary and site specific work, and of course, scaling up,” Murrow said.

He had heard about an engineering class in which students made robots that drew portraits of Nancy Bauer, dean of SMFA. “As SMFA faculty, we are always looking for ways to collaborate with Medford faculty, and that funny but very challenging assignment reminded me of the kinds of things we sometimes do down at the Fenway campus,” Murrow said.

He asked Bauer to connect him with the professor, mechanical engineering department chair Chris Rogers, who in turn offered a wall at the School of Engineering for a mural.

Murrow’s students met with Rogers, learning about his students’ drawing project and other goings on in the department. Soon they decided to divide the wall into a grid and work separately on individual squares, which were assigned different colors.

One student used color to approach race and stereotypes, Murrow said. Another, Paul Roche, used his squares to depict machines used to make oil paint’s pigment. “Each individual square is one of the machines on the assembly line used in the process,” said Roche, who is focusing on oil painting and portrait painting and pursuing a dual B.F.A. degree and B.S. computer science degree with a possible minor in cognitive behavioral science. “The sound wave overlaid on top of it represents the sound produced by the machine.”

“I learned how to work collaboratively in terms of relating compositionally with my neighbors about the colors next to me,” said Victoria Kitirattragarn. Photo: Anna MillerVictoria Kitirattragarn, who is specializing in oil painting and drawing but has also taken printmaking, animation, and performance art classes, said the colors made her think of fabric textures. “Purple reminded me of peacock scales,” said Kitirattragarn. “For black, I was working on lace; my white square was linen; red was a plaid picnic pattern.”

Kitirattragarn said the experience, and the class, has taught her a lot about working on a larger scale. “Working large really frees up your movement and your arms and gets your whole body involved,” she said. She added, “I learned how to work collaboratively in terms of relating compositionally with my neighbors about the colors next to me.”

She said many people stopped by during the process to watch the students work and ask what they were doing. “The whole idea is to get Tufts kids more interested in the SMFA community and classes,” Kitirattragarn said. Class teaching assistant Ziwei Li, who is graduating with an M.F.A. this month, agreed. “I think most people who don’t have experience with our school are wondering what we do, how our students work,” Li said. “It was really good for people to see the process of doing these drawings.”

Murrow said he’s pleased with how the mural turned out. “It’s an eclectic, bouncy mix of squares, and we hope it will amuse, intrigue, and perhaps make some engineering students take classes at SMFA,” he said.

Monica Jimenez can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.

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