Painted architectural mural decoration has existed in various forms and finishes since ancient times, its use rising and falling with changes in style and building technology. Used to define and often to enlarge space visually, architectural decoration is not mere ornamentation, a gratuitous splash of color, texture, and pattern unrelated to the overall space in which it exists. Successful architectural mural painting gives a facade or an interior character. Ceilings murals and centerpieces; wall moldings and wall murals, friezes, and decorative panels; door and window trim; floors all of these architectural elements and many others can be enhanced, and even imitated, through the skillful application of the medium of paint in the form of hand painted art. We are living during a period of renewed interest in painted ornamentation and decorative wall murals. The plain boxes of post-World War II modernism are now seen for what they are-a triumph of functionalism over form. The great masterpieces of the International Style-houses designed by Phillip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe's academic buildings in Chicago, and Johnson's and Mies's triumphant Seagram Building in New York, among others-stand as exemplars of the understated, the glass and steel components combined in a dramatic manner requiring no applied decoration.
Most of the imitators of the modern style, however - the commercial packagers of office blocks, apartment
towers, and tract houses-did not "paint" with building materials in the style of Johnson and Mies, but opted instead for practically formless buildings stripped to only the necessities of space and light. Characterless buildings arose throughout the Western world in the years 1945-75. As space became more and more expensive and the cost of embellishing it prohibitive design considerations took second place to economy. It is understandable, especially in crowded urban centers
and in poor Third World countries, that pure and simple considerations of creating usable space should take precedence over aesthetics and wall art. A clean box is preferable to a rat-infested hovel of an ornamental era. But what we can see in our surroundings does shape our emotional response to daily life. Given no character, most modern spaces provide in turn no comfort, no sense of ease or security, and create a mood of boredom and indifference.
Sometime in the 1970s, the field began to turn-away from pure function to modified form in architecture.
Some critics call this new type of design postmodern; others say it is simply a resurgence of an ornamentalism. Yet it is more than either term suggests, and the outlines of the future in building and interior design are by no means certain. On the one hand, there is a return to pure historic forms-Victorian gables and porches, Palladian windows and broken pediment entryways of the Colonial period, the gently curved and accented walls of Art Dec-all of which are enshrined in reproduction buildings nearly identical to those of earlier periods. On the other hand, the contemporary design movement is still alive and well, practitioners of the utilitarian mixing in motifs from the past, sometimes in outrageous pastiches, but, often, with a result that extends the limits of modern design inventively and imaginatively.
The architectural painters and hundreds of other art practitioners and mural artists of nearly ageless decorative techniques play a very important role in both aspects of the current architectural mural scene-traditional and contemporary.
These craftsmen have studied design history meticulously. They carefully examine the artifacts of previous decorative periods to properly restore or repair them. Some observers of the preservation scene may consider this labour mere copy work, but a true restoration painter or mural artist always leaves something of himself behind in his work, intentionally or not. Even the finest conservators of wall murals and paintings must take some liberties with their subjects. And when replicating colours, patterns, finishes, and forms for reproduction period buildings, changes are always made along the way even if only for compelling economic reasons rather than because of aesthetic considerations.