ART-icles: Peter Minshall

 

Minshall-ColouredMan_1971_fromYGallery
The Coloured Man (1971) Crayon on paper 12″ x 12″
Minshall-ARainbowforEveryman_fromYGalleryCatalogue
A Rainbow for Everyman (1986) Ink stamp and acrylic on card, mounted on board 62.75″ x 12″

‘A Rainbow for Everyman’ was created by Minshall in early 1986 in response to a mural design competition announced by the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. The mural would be for the Bank’s new office building, one of the just-completed ‘twin towers’ on Independence Square, which would have its official opening later that year. The brief was for a mural 63’ wide by 14’ high, to be located on the ground floor, high on the wall above what were then the teller windows through which foreign exchange allowances were dispensed. (The Bank’s judge for the competition, Kynaston McShine, eventually selected as the winner Willi Chen’s design, ‘Solar Marineorama’.)

Minshall conceived the mural as a giant horizontal rainbow made up of rows upon rows of heads, individually painted on 2’ x 2’ squares of canvas, in various combinations of rainbow colours, then stitched together to a single tapestry to be hung from the wall. Each head outline would be a replica of the signature ‘Everyman’ head Minshall had been repeating for some time as a repeating motif in his easel painting: he used the same head to represent the mythical ‘Callaloo’ character from his 1984 mas work of the same name. That head image the artist originally traced from the photograph of a masplayer on the cover of the Trinidad Mirror’s Carnival supplement of 1966. Minshall’s ‘The Coloured Man’ (1971) was his first use of the motif in his artwork. Of indeterminate ethnicity, vaguely androgynous, Minshall deployed this head as a symbolic stand-in for Everyman, for all of humanity, especially apt for a callaloo country like T&T.

The Central Bank requested that the design be submitted with a statement describing and explaining the design, and a description of the techniques and materials proposed.

Following are the documents that Minshall submitted with his design for ‘A Rainbow for Everyman’.

A RAINBOW FOR EVERYMAN

The mural is a rainbow of mankind, 180 individual panels of canvas, each a brilliantly coloured image of Everyman, joined into a single tapestry.  Each Everyman panel is unique, each its own blend of hue, shade, and pattern,  just as each human individual is an inimitable and unprecedented creation. Yet each corresponds to one of the six principal colours to form a horizontal rainbow stretching the entire length of the mural to the defined edge of colours at the viewer’s right. The rows of coloured images are a score for divine music – for it is true of each man that the kingdom of heaven is in thine own self – and the vertical panel at the right is the signature to that music.

The individually painted panels are actually sewn together to form the whole. This underlines the common thread of humanity that joins us all, each to the next, and makes a far stronger visual and philosophical statement than if the images were simply painted side by side on a single cloth.

The Everyman image is inspired by a mas, a real-life image of universality photographed from the Carnival twenty years ago. As the principal image is mas-inspired, so the mural itself owes a debt to our powerful and rich art form of the mas. Each two-foot square is a ‘headpiece,’ produced individually as a mascamp would produce headpieces for a band. The entire array of heads is a Carnival band, dozens of individuals donning their colours and joining to play a mas. The vertical band of black and colours at the viewer’s right is the banner to the band, announcing its theme: A Rainbow for Everyman, and the head atop, in gold leaf, is the King.

Everyman’s rainbow marries the mural to its surroundings.  The strong principal colours agree with similar bold colours used as accents in the interior design of the financial complex: the red of the railings and the band above the service windows; the orange and green of the waiting areas seats. The location of the mural on the wall above the EC-0 area will create a natural juxtaposition between the people lined up in these waiting area seats and the people lined up in the rainbow of man – a tension is introduced between the rows of heads above and the rows of heads below. Considering the institution, a mischievous good humour tempts one to speculate whether the rainbow might also suggest a pot of gold at its end.  There is, at least, a golden head.

As a whole, the simplicity of this work and its stark geometry seem to sit well in its environment. And in the tradition of the mural as a painterly representation of social and moral themes, the impact of this piece is immediate, and never more timely: A Rainbow for Everyman is a gigantic flag for peace and love.

A RAINBOW FOR EVERYMAN: TECHNICAL DESCRIPTION AND INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS

The mural is composed of 180 separate panels of canvas, each two feet square, sewn together in six rows of thirty panels each, adjoining on the southwest edge (the viewer’s right) a vertical panel two feet by twelve feet stretched onto a frame. The dimensions of the entire mural, then, are 12 feet by 62 feet, to be positioned on the wall with one foot of clearance above, below, and to the viewer’s left. The right-hand edge of the 2 feet by 12 feet framed panel is exactly in line with the edge of the ceiling above. The 180 panels of canvas will be individually painted in acrylics, with the outline of the Everyman head screen printed on each, and then sewn together to form a single cloth.

The method of hanging preferred by the artist would be to place brass grommets, approximately 3/8 inch inside diameter, at regular intervals in the top edge of the assembled cloth, and to hang each grommet on a post or nail fixed in the wall. The slight undulation of the free-hanging cloth that would most likely occur with this method of installation would emphasize its softness of form and texture in deliberate counterpoint to the concrete hardness of the wall against which it hangs.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Yasmin Hadeed (Y Gallery) and Todd Gulick (Callaloo Company) for their help in locating these documents. To Austin Fido for being a very helpful intermediary and of course, Peter Minshall, for graciously giving us permission to feature these works, first seen on Instagram. Of interest to note is that the celebrated MOMA curator Kynaston McShine who judged the Central Bank competition died in January this year. 

 

 

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