Sharing mural secrets

19:08, Apr 02 2014
Lawrence Walterfang
TEAM EFFORT: Artists Nikki Romney, left, Betty Salter and Karin Fruhauf by their new mural outside Paula’s Plate on Rutherford St.

Public murals have been popping up around Nelson lately. Judith Ritchie joined in with the latest project to find out how they are done and why murals are important as public art.

I am all for great public art and sharing skills. When artist Nikki Romney put the word out that she wanted to bring a mural artist to town to share his methodology, I was one of a group to take up the opportunity to work alongside someone who could demystify the whole process.

Mural artist John Mulvay came down to Nelson from Waihi for four days to share, and share he did. Mulvay has mostly done murals on his own, sixteen or so, big public ones, dress shops, cafes and bars in Auckland and around the north island.

Originally a painter and decorator, Mulvay went to art school in 1990 at Hungry Creek in Puhoi, Northland, which he credits for fuelling his passion for public art.

"I'm also inspired by New York trains, Venice Beach public artwork in LA and murals I've seen in Ireland, three storeys high, all sorts from everywhere," says Mulvay.

Romney designed the concept for the art work, titled Temptation. First a building was secured, in this case, the wall outside Paula's Plate on Rutherford St.


Romney held an informal gathering at her home where Mulvay generously gave design tips, like keeping it simple and bold, using Payne's Grey as a base colour under shadows, combining it with magenta, then blending to make a warm shadow effect.

Like building up layers in traditional painting, he uses a blue-green tone under skin tones and red underneath ochre for tree branches.

Work began early on a Saturday morning. While it was still dark, the design image was projected on to the wall, then sketched in using charcoal, although chalk could also be used.

Areas of base colour were blocked in, layers added and with that, details, shadows and highlights.

It seems obvious now, but for this particular mural, a small team was definitely best. I was able to help out on day two with various others pitching in, but this created a disjointed image, a case of too many styles on the one work.

Monday came around and that was the end of my practical participation, making it easier for the core group to really claim their parts of the mural and form a unified style.

Mulvay, Romney, along with Karin Fruhauf and Betty Salter took command and each time I visited, the work grew tighter and more cohesive.

Each artist had their area of speciality, Romney with faces, skin tones and fabric, Salter with animals and Fruhauf with plates and detail. Mulvay could lend his hand to any area, but seemed to have a few preferences.

"I love hair, that's my favourite part of a mural, but I also love drawing and learning from others." he says.

"With regard to this mural, it's interesting how four different styles have come together to make something beautiful."

As a photorealist portrait painter Romney is used to painting in oils, layering and blending; the acrylics used on the mural posed some problems for her.

"I've learnt that I can't paint in acrylics, so I do paint-by-numbers style and am learning from experience," says Romney.

Fruhauf had previously painted a Buxton Square toilet block mural, but it was her background as a freelance plate designer in Germany, that she drew upon for this work.

"Thirty years ago I did this china painting and now I can bring this out again," she says.

Like everyone who took part, Fruhauf gained a lot personally.

"It's so inspiring and motivating working with other artists, each having a different style, I'm enjoying that most," says Fruhauf. "It's about sharing the creative process together, learning by looking and discussing things. It has provided a balance between this and working alone in your own studio."

Salter has been painting for many years, specialising in animal portraits. "It's a lot of fun working with other artists, with Johnny sharing the tricks of the trade and getting the feedback from people on the street, who stop and chat," says Salter. "They want to know how it's done too, and comment on the image, it's great."

Romney, Fruhauf and Salter want to get involved in more mural projects in future, learning the methodology as well as spreading the number of public murals around Nelson and Richmond.

"It's really cool how the public have given us feedback," says Mulvay. "It's going to be a landmark as well as good for business for Paula's Plate."

For this writer, being part of Temptation has been a very informative introduction to public art, from learning the practical skills involved, to watching the collaborative process of artists working together. Mostly it has been a moment to share in a public process, where passers-by interact with artists, stop and chat, inquire and learn as well as get inspired themselves.