Art in Conversation is a new monthly series that features pieces from CUAG’s collection in dialogue with cultural trends, current events, and local and global arts communities. Art isn’t just for looking at – here, we explore art as an interactive social phenomenon.
Every mural tells a story. And unlike a painting, sculpture, or drawing, a mural is confined to the very wall it adorns; it cannot be simply relocated for display elsewhere. In this way, a mural shares a very special relationship with the structure and space it inhabits. This method of visual storytelling is perhaps one of the oldest, emerging from the early practice of cave painting and persisting as a venerable tradition throughout history – from the tombs, temples, and palaces of ancient civilisations like Egypt, Greece, and Rome to the glittering interiors of Byzantine cathedrals to the contemporary practices of graffiti. The murals we frequently see can tell us about who we are as people and about how we interact with the spaces we occupy.
Here at Carleton University, we have our very own mural: an impressive, intensely colourful mosaic. Located on the curved wall in the lobby of Tory Building facing the quad, it is difficult miss this masterpiece even amongst the cacophony of students rushing toward scattered destinations. This massive work of art, known as The Pilgrimage of Man, was created in 1962 by renowned Canadian artist and Ottawa local Gerald Trottier. While the work exemplifies Trottier’s skill in abstraction and artistic composition and even hints to his religious leanings, it acts most prominently as a liaison between the campus as an educational and social space and the students who populate it.
The mosaic mural portrays the theme of “humanity’s quest for timeless knowledge and understanding,” moving from colourful chaos to fragmented fantasy to abstracted clarity. 1 This narrative sets a deliberate tone for a university edifice harbouring those in search of academic enlightenment. Installed over fifty years ago, I wondered what the campus sentiment is today. How relevant is it to those that pass by it every day? What role does it play in day-to-day life? I talked to a few students passing by for their opinion on the mural:
Perhaps the theme does not so consciously permeate the student mind in the twenty-first century, but there is no doubt that it is an unavoidable visual highlight. It serves as a lively break to the monotonous muted tones of the campus walls and to daily routine. Whether we know it or not, the presence of art enriches our daily experiences and can even inspire creative thinking.
(All images courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery)
Read more about this work at:
1Dyck, Sandra. A Pilgrim’s Progress: The Life and Art of Gerald Trottier (Ottawa: Carleton University Art Gallery, 2008), 32.
Leona Nikolic is a fourth-year Art History student. She likes sunshine, unicorns, and riding her bike. You can read more from her at the Carleton Art History Department website and at the Art and Science Journal.