A Fresh Fresco for the English Wing
By Melanie Juarez
You might have noticed some new art gracing the wall outside of the Latin room. Lukas Hoffmann, Adv. 906, certainly did. “Has that been there the whole time?” he asked one day, as he walked into Journalism, worried that it had always been there, but he had somehow had not noticed an entire wall for four years.
If you felt the same, you are not crazy. The new painting is courtesy of Tallulah Cartalucca, Adv. 910, who created the piece as part of her Senior Project. It was installed on 28 May.
Cartalucca started working on the mural in September of last year, using this Senior Project to continue her studies in Latin. She combined her interest in ancient Roman culture with her talent in art by choosing to study frescoes, the most popular style of mural-making in the Roman Empire.
She began by studying the origins, techniques, and history of frescoes. Frescoes are created in three distinct techniques, but all involve the mixing of raw pigments with plaster as the binding medium. In Roman times, frescoes typically portrayed scenes from mythology, cult(ural) practices, and architecture that created the illusion of a larger space. Cartalucca drew on famous frescoes, such as the grand garden scenes found in the Villa of Livia, a poem by Catullus about a girl and her sparrow, and Homer’s “Odyssey” to design her mural. She wanted her fresco to depict the girl in Catullus’ poem and weave in glimpses of Roman architecture, mythology, and nature.
She set up the giant painting in her living room, where she worked on it for months. She began with compositional sketches in charcoal, then slowly built up layers of color with acrylic paint. She opted for acrylic over the traditional pigments and plaster for both longevity and cost purposes.) Acrylic paint dries up quickly on a palette and must be used immediately, so working on such a large scale was challenging.
Cartalucca then went back in with chalk pastels, hand-drawing cracks, and fissures. As her last step, she used watered-down paint in yellow tones and brushed it over the canvas. When combined, these effects give the mural the same worn down look of the frescoes that have survived through centuries.
Cartalucca described this entire process in her presentations, which happened during X Block on 21 May and after school on 29 May. On 29 May, she invited a special guest, Marcus Davis of TRACE, a Chicago Park District Program, to discuss the cultural impacts of murals. In the program, teens work together to design and create murals that reflect the neighborhood’s vitality and community, with the goal of representing the true spirit of communities that are traditionally stereotyped as being marginalized. Davis said “We look at communities from an asset-based perspective, at natural and community resources that aren’t necessarily financial. And we encourage people to think about what resources they have to enact positive change.” Davis then discussed the power murals have to represent and impact the communities they are placed in, tying it back to Cartalucca’s mural, which will hang in the hall for years to come, greeting hundreds of students every day.
“Most importantly, frescoes served to bring people together. It was my goal to give my mural the same utility at Northside.” In fact, the mural combines three departments - Latin, English, and Art. “It is my hope that this utility in the classrooms of three distinct academic areas will help students realize how interdisciplinary and collaborative their studies can be,” said Cartalucca.