FINE ARTS FAāADE, ATHENS, GEORGIA

JEAN CHARLOT[1]

 

The mural painting completed May 1rst on the outside of the Auditorium and Fine Arts Building will have to withstand the vicissitudes of the elements; the only technique that was deemed sufficiently sturdy for said conditions is that of “fresco buono,” also known as true fresco, to distinguish it from the many substitute mural techniques that are usually pooled under the generic term of “fresco.” 

The composition of the wall was found to be such that only the top layer of mortar had to be removed in order to prepare a suitable intermediary surface of lime, cement and sand.  It was now ready to receive the rough outline drawing partitioning the areas to be plastered daily with the “intonaco” or final coat made up of two parts of sand and one part of thoroughly slaked lime putty, on which the picture is painted  The wet[2] lime of this final coat serves as binding ground, the colors being simply mixed with water; the plaster is put up in sections corresponding to the six or seven hours of work after which the drying mortar will no longer bind the color.  In this particular mural, the large scale necessary to insure legibility from a remote point of view permitted the painting of an average daily area of thirty-six square feet, the total of four hundred square feet being covered in eleven days. 

The setting of this mural is classical Greece, an allusion to the town from which Athens takes its name and to the role that classical education and tradition still play today in the arts; it harmonizes also with the architectural style of the faćade adorned with Greek columns. 

The Auditorium and Fine Arts Building is given over to three different purposes:[3] its central part being reserved for theatrical functions, lectures and group activities; its left wing dedicated to painting, sculpture and applied arts; its right wing to music.  The subject matter of the fresco follows closely the interior function, being divided in three panels illustrating corresponding subject matters.[4]

The left panel treats of the Fine Arts.  In it the painter is seen working on a composition, a mathematical diagram rationalizing the proportions of man; the sculptor is seen attacking with hammer and chisel a piece of marble.  Thus the painter symbolizes the conception of the work of art in the world of thought, while the sculptor symbolizes its execution in terms of the material used.  There is also the potter and near him a potter’s wheel of archaic type, a hint of future industrialization and machine-made art.  The three artists cluster around a seated woman, “Inspiration,” crowned with gold laurels and holding the plumb line and square suggestive of the discipline and method that must imperate even in the arts. 

The corresponding right panel represents music.  On the right a trio is playing.  Goat-footed Pan blows his pipe; half animal, half human, he marks the transition between nature’s and man’s music; the cymbal player typifies the extrovert activities of music, i.e., jazz in our own age; the harpist, in meditative concentration, represents the introvert appreciation of classical works.  On the left a group of singers shows music as a social activity that binds individuals to one mood; the masked singer ties this panel with the central theater theme.  All are grouped around the Conductor; with her left hand she beats the meter, while on her other perches a bird that intones the absolute pitch. 

The central panel features the theater.  Two women holding masks symbolize Comedy and Tragedy.  To emphasize the unreality inherent in stage acting, each holds a mask opposite her true nature; although persons looking at the mural can appreciate this point as they see both masks and wearers, the spectators painted at each side of the central group remain under the spell of the theatrical illusion, laugh at Comedy and are stirred by Tragedy; exceptions are a child and a dog who prove impervious to this make-believe.  Over the middle door is seated the author, who receives those varied moods from humanity and returns them enriched; on the scroll on which he writes we read a Greek inscription––“Athens the Beautiful”––that serves as a general title for the whole fresco. 

The best point of view to appreciate this mural is from the other side of the street, where it can be apprehended in connection with its architectural setting; it was specifically planned to afford changing vistas through the intervals between columns, and its color is made to harmonize with the white of the stone and to complement that of the brick walls. 

The painter remains grateful to Chancellor S. V. Sanford, President Caldwell, Messrs. Hugh Hodgson and Lamar Dodd, who understood that complete freedom insured the best possible results, to Dr. Bocock who kindly helped with the inscription, and thanks[5] John and Barbara Ormai, two friends who came specially from New York to collaborate unselfishly on this project. 

 



[1] The four-page typescript is in the Jean Charlot Collection.  The text was partially published in “Charlot Mural on Fine Arts Building,” introduction by Harmon W. Caldwell, Georgia Alumni Record, May–June 1942, pp. 138 f.; and in the Athens Banner-Herald, May 10, 1942.  Portions of this essay were integrated by the author into Charlot Murals in Georgia, introduction by Lamar Dodd, photographs by Eugene Payor, commentaries by Jean Charlot, University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1945, 71–113. The mural described is Visual Arts, Drama, Music, Antebellum facade, Fine Arts Building, University of Georgia, Athens, April 20–May 1, 1942, 9’ X 46’.  Edited by John Charlot.

[2] Replaces: fresh.

[3] Replaces: activities. 

[4] Replaces: activities. 

[5] Original: thanks to.