Client: Ferris State University
Location: Big Rapids, MI, United States
Completion date: 2005
Artwork budget: $100,000
Robert L Barnum
RL Barnum Studios
Ferris State University
Case Western University
OF THOUGHT AND REASON is a 1300 square foot mural offering a visual parable as to how knowledge has evolved, was limited for some period of history or defeated. OTAR is an oil on stretched canvas fitting a serpentine wall in the new FLITE library at FSU. The 10’ tall by 130’ long mural is rendered in multiple layers of oil paint on a careful prepared 12-ounce canvas. The narrative essentially covers 25,000 years of human history in creative visual terms.
Of Thought and Reason was designed by a creative visual narrative to offer more questions than answers. I use creative in critical terms since in essence I made the whole thing up. OTAR is a 130-foot long parable that questions the growth or suggests roadblocks that impeded growth. This oil on canvas rendered parable considers a volume of historical, theological, industrial/technological and philosophical beliefs, facts or projections that reference human success and human failure. Knowledge in some ways defines human success. The goal of this complex story was to consider a 130’ long narrative that requires a personal interpretation and a personal response. In very simple terms, there is no correct answer to this public art statement. The large-scale painting is in a university library. A facility by design and by content potential to create new ideas or at least the potential of new ideas.
Of Thought and Reason was painted in a 20’x40’ abandoned racquetball court below the old FSU basketball court. Horrible room with bad lights and no ventilation. The canvas was stretched and wrapped around existing court walls and a temporary wall fabricated out of 2x4’s to complete the required distance. I was never able to stand more than 10’ back from any stretched canvas section to evaluate the freehand charcoal underdrawings or the 4 or 5 oil paint layer coats required by my style to render this mural. With the good help of the FSU physical plant, this 130 foot long canvas took 30 days to stretch and staple to the custom made stretcher bars secured to the interior curved wall 10’ above floor level. The content of OTAR was inspired at some level to a process realizing the wealth and variety of beliefs or historical facts a university can provide. High schools, junior Highs and grade schools made class visits to the racquetball court during the year of time required to complete Of Thought and Reason.
Of Thought and Reason as a public art statement stands ground, as possibly having more value and more possible viewer ownership that photographic duplication or an emphasis on decorative visual terms may be able to offer.