In its 46-year history of commissioning public art, the San Francisco Arts Commission has overseen many mosaic projects, but Amy Ellingson’s 10-foot by 109-foot mural for San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 3 is by far the biggest. Untitled (Large Variation) is an abstract mural that uses color, geometry, repetition, scale and spatial illusion to suggest movement and transformation.
“It’s big, bold and beautiful,” says Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny. “The vibrant pattern and color of Amy Ellingson’s mural as well as its commanding physical presence creates an immersive art experience in an unexpected location. It is exciting to commission a work of this scale for the airport, where people from all over the world will get to experience it.”
Ellingson’s practice is a synergy between digital media and the hand-made object. Typically, she uses graphics software to create multilayered compositions of great complexity that are translated into physical form using traditional painting media. All of her imagery, whether geometrically intact or abstracted and chaotic, is comprised of a vocabulary of simple forms that are digitally manipulated. The mural was fabricated by Mosaika Art & Design, a woman-owned and run company based in Montreal, Quebec.
“All of my paintings begin on the computer,” Amy Ellingson explains, “and my working process is very much about the translation of the virtual/evanescent to the real/concrete, by using traditional painting materials and processes. There is a rhythm in the piece, and a lot of movement, but also elements that are loosely symmetrical. I designed it so that people can drift with the imagery, but also come back to a feeling of centeredness. I hope that viewers perceive a sense of generosity of spirit and intention, or a buoyancy, in the piece— it takes so many people, so many hands, to create a mosaic at this scale, and I feel that all of us—myself, the Arts Commission, Gensler and Mosaika—did our very best work to make this piece as successful as possible.”
The initial idea for this commission began as a Terrazzo floor, but due to Ellingson’s complex brand of Formalism, an iconic characteristic of her work, the project eventually morphed into a wall piece. Even so, Ellingson still had to make many more revisions to pare down the design before it was ready for fabrication, not to mention two trips to Canada for crucial design decisions with the Mosaika team. Finished in early 2013, the 109-foot mosaic has been patiently waiting for over a year to see the light of United’s Terminal 3. The piece will take a team of 4 people about 6-8 weeks to install the mural’s 70,000 hand-cut, hand-glazed tiles and will be fully viewable by the public in November 2015.
Ellingson, a San Francisco-based painter and former professor at the San Francisco Art Institute didn’t consider pursuing public art because she felt formalist works had fallen out of favor in the public eye. It was truly a pleasant surprise when the SFAC approached her in 2010. She discusses what it feels like to see her work exhibited in such a public and permanent way:
“I have been showing in galleries for over 20 years, and I have works in museum and corporate collections, but I suspect that more people will see this piece than the balance of my lifetime’s creative output—that is really amazing to me, and it is a tremendous honor. People will surely enter into the piece in different ways with different associations and interpretations. Since it is a busy terminal, some people will see it often, and I wonder how their relationship to the piece might change over time.”
Ellingson’s paintings have been exhibited nationally and in Tokyo, Japan. She is the recipient of the Fleishhacker Foundation Eureka Fellowship and the Artadia Grant to Individual Artists and has been awarded fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Notable group exhibitions include Bay Area Now 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Neo Mod: Recent Northern California Abstraction at the Crocker Art Museum; and Nineteen Going on Twenty: Recent Acquisitions from the Collection at The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu. Her work is held in various public and corporate collections, including the Crocker Art Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Ellingson’s paintings have been reviewed in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, NYArts Magazine, and Art issues. She received a B.A. in Studio Art from Scripps College and an M.F.A. from CalArts. Ellingson’s most recent solo exhibition, Field Theories, was held at ProjeKcts by Projects/Shoichiro in Tokyo in November 2014. Amy Ellingson lives and works in San Francisco.
For more information about Amy, and to see evolving documentation of the mural’s installation: http://www.amyellingson.com/
The San Francisco Arts Commission is the City agency that champions the arts as essential to daily life by investing in a vibrant arts community, enlivening the urban environment and shaping innovative cultural policy. Our programs include: Civic Art Collection, Civic Design Review, Community Investments, Public Art, SFAC Galleries and Street Artist Licensing. To learn more visit: sfartscommission.org