The Mondrian Garage Project

TaMaMa Dance Company performing in front of the Mondrian Garage Mural on Third Street in Marquette MI for Artweek.

All painting – the painting of the past as well as of the present

– shows us that its essential plastic means we are only line and color.

– Piet Mondrian

Mondrian Garage Mural in Marquette, MI

While I was a member of the Marquette Artist Collective the opportunity to create a public mural on Third Street in Marquette was dropped at my feet. I agreed to take on this project having no personal experience with painting a mural myself. But I committed, so I would follow through, learning the process as I went.

We artists like to caution each other not to die of exposer. I caution you, also, to think about volunteer projects like this one and if they are right for you. I had more than one reason I wanted to do this project.

  • This was my childhood neighborhood. I knew this structure very well.
  • I believed in the project, as proposed, as a catalyst for moving other mural projects forward
  • It would be a little work for a great impact on the community
  • Exposure. I got a ton of mileage out of this project. Articles, news spots, published photographs…

I Said Yes to a Public Mural for Art Week

In 2019 I was asked by the City of Marquette Arts and Culture director Tiina Morin to volunteer to create a mural for a large, nearly two-story, garage door next to Northern Lights Glass on Third Street in Marquette. Tiina bounced the idea around of having the mural be Mondrian themed, and I felt moved by that idea. The Mondrian Garage mural would be completed in time for Marquette’s Art Week.

I was excited to be a part of a public project in my childhood neighborhood. I also believed that although I’d never done a mural, I had a number of home improvement skills that I could utilize and combine with my visual artist skills to get this job done.

The Mural Challenges

There were a few challenges to completing this project. 

First the door was nearly two stories tall, I needed scaffolding to reach the top. I also needed assistance moving the scaffolding from side to side as the work progressed. Tiina arranged to have the City of Marquette drop off scaffolding and my personal supporter of the arts, my husband, Kurt assisted with scaffolding moves. 

The second challenge related to the heavily weathered, peeling wood veneer of the door itself. My canvas. In an ideal world with endless funds and carpenter minions I would have had all that replaced before priming. In this reality, I was a volunteer. I did what I could to ensure the best results. From top to bottom I scraped off the loose paint and gave it a quick wash. After drying, I coated it with two layers of peel stop primer. I chose a high-quality exterior latex paint for the mural itself.

I replaced a patch of expanded and chipped particle board across the bottom with smooth new plywood. I could make do with many aspects of this project, but I could not abide that.

The Mural Process

If I was looking for inspirational artists from the twentieth century to create a mural from, Mondrian would not be my pick. I was never a fan and I bristled a little when I first heard the suggestion. I got over my personal feelings about the aesthetics (maturity?) and realized the potential of this inspiration pairing with the underlaying structure of the door. I also concluded that I would have control over the shades of red, yellow and blue I used. That ability to put my personal touch on the project made it a yes, despite it being a project outside of my visual style.

Photoshop sketch

Prior to painting I created a template in photoshop and made a few different combinations of the color blocks. Naturally I followed the lines of the garage door for the color blocks. Initially was going to have a cat or a raven on the door instead of the red-winged blackbird but I chose the black bird because the wing colors are in sync with Mondrian’s palette.

I saved some time (and a little frustration) by using a projector to get my red winged blackbird shape on the door rather than using a grid or drawing free-hand. I was able to see in real time the visual feel of the size of this element I was adding, and adjust it to feel balanced. I prefer to approach my work in an organic problem solving way, rather than a pre-planned set-in-stone path.

Taryn Okesson, Marquette Artist

Art Stroll during Art Week, the cherry on top! TaMaMa Dance Company danced their way through town and up to the mural just as the local news was doing a live spot on it. I participated in an interview and tried not to be too difficult. A bit of a crowd showed up.

And then it happened…

I felt like an artist. (Poof, away with imposter syndrome).

Thanks to Give

I was too overwhelmed in the moment to properly socialize. So I’m saying my proper thank you’s here.

TaMaMa Dance Company: The Art Stroll performance was fun and perfect

Tiina Morin and The City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center: I always wanted to do something fun like this. And thankfully they were able to help with the equipment.

Marquette Artist Collective

HOTplate Pottery: having the tool a woman needed (a projector, don’t be weird)

TV6 News: really. For showing up when you did and putting up with the weird. I’m glad I did it▪️

Have you seen the Mondrian Garage Mural? Add yourself to my email list then leave a comment below!

Updated September 10, 2022

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  1. Two Weeks in August – Taryn Okesson

    […] been up on scaffolding to paint a mural before. I did the Mondrian Garage Mural just down Third Street from the ‘Natural’ mural. When I designed the Mondrian Garage I […]

  2. Karen

    I need to check this out….how cool! One can’t help smiling when they see this-awesome job!!! Can’t wait to see it up front & personnel…

    1. tarynokesson_ghsokm

      thank you!

  3. Michele

    As an artist, I think many of us suffer from imposter syndrome! Usually I just feel lazy…But I honestly have enjoyed all of the work I have seen by you. I’m so happy you took on this project. You made it Mondrian inspired, not a Mondrian imitation, and your bird is amazing. I will smile every time I drive down Third Street, and you have made it a happier drive for our community.
    I’m hoping you applied to be a painter on the Power of Words Project mural on Third and Ohio. I’m hoping to be one of those as well.
    Thank you for your time and efforts!

    1. tarynokesson_ghsokm

      I’m so glad that it is being received so positively.

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