MANŐS WISDOM SUBDUES THE AGGRESSIVE FORCES OF NATURE
This caption, inscribed within the picture itself, states the theme of the work. This generalized and somewhat abstract idea was illustrated by concrete examples chosen, inasmuch as possible, from among local Arizona lore or, even more specifically, to be connected with activities at Arizona State College.
Besides the choice of subject matter, there were also architectural problems of composition, specifically linked with my work as a muralist: I found the wall area visually divided by the staircase, which functioned roughly as a diagonal running from the upper right corner of the wall to the lower left one. This staircase circumscribed two triangles of uneven areas, the upper one being the larger. This division suggested in turn a splitting up of the theme into two parts, contrasted in their particulars but one in their essence.
The subject chosen for the upper theme––a Hopi Snake Dance––is specifically Arizonan and expresses the most ancient tradition of a local culture still active today: the Hopi Snake Dance stands thus as a living link with the past.
The second theme was suggested by the neighboring science building, where a special study of Arizona poisonous animals is conducted and serums prepared. This type of research, depending on Occidental habits of thought and culture and still in its pioneering stages, can be said to represent our link with the future.
Both subjects are concerned with a propitiation of nature, but with contrasting means. The Indian dance is a synthesis that illustrates the poetical and aesthetic approach. The research of modern science is analytical and factual. These intellectual differences are expressed in the mural by contrasting plastic means. The Indian subject of the upper triangle silhouettes its personages in dark against a yellow background suggestive of open spaces and outdoor life. The lower panel describes light objects against a dark purple ground, as if they emerged from the mouth of a cave or cell, an illusion heightened by the position of that part of the wall, recessed in shadow under the jutting platform of the stairway.
A difficult aesthetic problem was the relationship of the mural to the staircase, of an overpowering bulk made the more insistent by the imposing metal railing and the forward movement of the lower stairs. The problem was to unite the reality of the stairs with the illusive painted bulk and space behind it. This was achieved by having the personages move in unison with the stairs themselves. At the top, the squatting dancer emphasizes the stability of the upper landing. From there, the dance and its dancers spill along the descending stairs, and the dancers, seen at first in pure profile and then in three-quarter view, execute a turning movement in such a way that the last group to the left reverses its direction and appears to move at a forty-five degree angle to the wall along the line of the lower flight of stairs.
This mural was executed in true fresco and, as the inscription under the stairs testifies, was executed as a problem in class collaboration. It is to be hoped that the experience of actual fresco painting thus achieved by this group of students will result in further murals for Arizona.