What kind of artwork meets the requirements to be called a mural? What are its visual and technical characteristics? Which materials and which type of surface have to be used to earn the title? Is it paint on a wall? What about on a ceiling? And does it need to be outside on the streets or inside houses?
No consensus exists in the art world what the term mural entails. If we would take the broadest sense of the term, color on any kind of permanent surface. Murals are amongst the oldest artworks ever found on the earth. Approximately around 30,000 BC, prehistoric humans spend their time and energy making cave painting. Discovered at the end of the 19th-century scholars were surprised by the high sophistication of the depictions and regard it as the dawn of art as we know it. They are not random handprints in the stone. No, Paleolithic cave painters developed a technique including preparation of the walls, engraving it to create figures and applied color using pigments found in nature.
Amongst the Egyptians appeared to be painters capable of emulating the Paleolithic cave painters (around 3150 BC). Also, the Minoan civilization located on the island of Crete and other Aegean islands during the Bronze Age did not lack skilled muralists (around 1700 BC). Perhaps even more famous are the surviving frescos from Pompeii. Not without reason, they are one of the few examples of Roman painting as a whole. Frescoes can also be found in India and Sri Lanka.
Although it is safe to say that throughout the ages of every civilization, there has always been a rich mural painting tradition, there is one place and time that stands out: Italy during the Renaissance. Popes, and other wealthy parties such as the Medici family perpetually commissioned these murals, like it was nothin’. Raffaello Sanzio’s School of Athens, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s work in the Sistine Chapel, the list goes on and on. After mid-16th until the 20th century were slow days for this specific technique. Its last gasp was Mexican muralism of which Diego Rivera was its most influential member (you know, Frida Kahlo’s husband). It was useful as a form of promoting social and political ideas, and it meant a resurrection of the mural in a broader sense than frescoes.
Next to frescoes, there are other kinds of murals made in the 20th century. During the Interwar period, the interior of a historical building in Strasbourg named Aubette was taken care of by De Stijl member Theo van Doesburg, and Dadaists Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and Jean Arp. They created “the Sistine Chapel of abstract art”. Another example is Street Art which has a litany of possible methods: spray paint graffiti, stencil graffiti, wheat-pasted poster art, sticker art. However, it has to be public and outside to fall under this heading. A lot of globally known artists were active around the turn of the century i.e. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Banksy.
The development of the mural in the 20th century has taken as much place inside the walls as on the streets. Sol Lewitt, a pioneer for Conceptual Art, created in the late 60’s his wall drawings. Except for the first one he made, he did not execute the wall drawings himself; instead, he employed assistants to carry out his instructions to put the pieces on the wall. Post-conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner creates murals under the name wall installations which consists of painted words on a wall. Also in this case, the act of putting the pieces on the walls, do not have to be done by the Weiner himself, as long it complies with his instructions. However, it is not a men-only party. Nowadays, lots of female muralists are painting the town, such as Bambi, Guerilla Girls, and Swoon, and at Murals Inc. is the female ratio is 22:12.
As you have read, murals have a long history, a diverse range of characteristics and a lot of potential to private individuals. It has the exceptional possibility to become one with its interior. And if it is good enough for generations of popes, it surely is a good addition to your home.
Maribelle Bierens is an External Communication Officer at PHK18. She recently graduated in art history from the University of Amsterdam. She weekly writes a blog about contemporary art, www.questionsandart.com and posts about it on Instagram, qandart daily.