Jesus Watches Over Spalding Students

Art Teacher Paints A Heavenly Mural

July 19, 1991|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing writer

Brian Gunning just couldn't get the foot right. He had tried, but itjust wasn't working.

It wasn't his fault, though. This was, afterall, the largest foot he had ever painted -- about 12 inches long. And he had to climb about 20 feet up a ladder to paint it on a concrete block wall.

But the 28-year-old Pasadena artist wasn't making any excuses. Hewanted that foot to look perfect. It was important to him. It was important to the Archbishop Spalding High School Class of 1991, which had commissioned the popular teacher to paint a mural in the school.

"We wanted to give something to the school that would stand out," said Class of 1991 President Stacy Nelson. "We wanted people to noticeit. We didn't want it to be hidden or pushed away."

Gunning, Spalding's art department chairman, was delighted with the request. And he knew just where to paint his work.

"I have always felt that thisarea needed something," said Gunning, who pointed to the bare concrete block walls in the school's foyer.

So, last week, he began turning one of those walls into a riot of color and mystery. He transformed the tan-colored concrete blocks into a bright blue sky with large,puffy clouds that are a colorful blend of yellow, blue, white and purple. And in the center, hovering above the clouds, looms the figure of the risen Jesus. With his arms outstretched, the figure seems to be greeting all who entered the school.

"I hope people feel a little bit more welcome when they come in," the Pasadena resident said, looking up at the large, dark hands. "I hope this will give the foyer alittle bit of color, a little bit of pizazz."

Although a seasoned, professional artist, Gunning still considered this commission a challenging task.

"Any time I paint, I like to learn," he said. "I'vereally learned a lot from doing this."

Like dealing with foreshortening, for example. Since people look up at the 11-foot circular painting, Christ's upper torso appears smaller and farther away. Gunningcorrected that problem by enlarging the upper torso so that it appears normal.

But he has to do all this while standing on a ladder. Gunning, however, doesn't mind his audition as the modern-day Michelangelo.

"It builds up my calf muscles," he said. "At least I'm not bent on my back." He also had to contend with the natural light streaming in from every direction. He selected a spot on the wall opposite the entrance where the light was just right and then used dark and light colors to highlight shades and shadows.

And there is that matter with the foot. Gunning is so concerned with making the painting appear realistic that he has spent hours gazing at clouds, for example,so that he could capture them correctly in his painting.

"I'm convinced that clouds aren't blue," he said. "They cast shadows on themselves and those shadows could be violets or blues. I know a lot of mystudents wouldn't believe that. They're told clouds are white, like cotton."

But capturing that realism is difficult because the Spalding alumnus has never painted anything this large before.

"Thank God for Latex paint," Gunning said jokingly.

He painted the foot once, for example, then went home to draw his wife's foot.

"I reallyneeded to study what a foot looks like," Gunning said. He then tapedthe drawing of her foot on the wall and painted the foot again. Thistime, his work almost satisfied him.

"It's still a little too twisted," he said.

Students, teachers and office workers didn't seem to notice, though. All stopped, looked and applauded the painting.

So did Nelson, the class president, who saw the painting last week.

"He had just started, but it looked great," she said. "I'm really excited about it."

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