Q&A with Dan Grych


By Jessi Haish

Dan Grych, of The Art Box, 308 E. Lincoln Highway, and an artist during the creation of “Its Merits Recommend It…” answered some questions about his experience in an email Q&A.

Northern Star: What was your “role” in the group of artists who worked on the mural?

Dan Grych: When Olivia Gude organized several meetings searching for ideas and volunteers I attended every meeting but one. I took the mural bus tour to Chicago, I was on the design committee and one of the three artists that became “lead” artists.

Before we started painting on the wall, Olivia asked my thoughts about color selection. I responded by telling her that since the wall is neutral in color the paint has to be the light and dark values in order for people to see it. She liked that idea.

Because I worked at the NIU Art/Photo Dept. (now Media Services-Imaging) I was able to submit some photos that would be helpful. Gordon Means was head of Art/Photo in 1999 when the mural was painted, and I selected one of his color photographs, and apparently Olivia selected it for one of the postcard pieces on the wall. It is the image of the silhouette of Altgeld Hall with the sunrise. I also submitted a vintage photo without credit of the Egyptian Theatre (before the theatre was renovated) that I took when I was a student at NIU in 1974. Olivia selected it as another postcard piece, Peter Olson distorted the perspective, and Olivia wanted me to paint it. It was then that I told Olivia that it was originally my photograph. I also drew the ink portraits of the Barb Wire Barons, but painted only the one on the right. I under-painted all of the student portraits for Olivia to overpaint, many of the words telling the story, the theatre seats, and the boy’s shoes (he is fishing).

NS: How did you become a part of the group that worked on the project?

DG: There was an ad in the newspaper. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to become a part of this group. I have a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and it isn’t often that a painting gig comes to town; volunteer, it didn’t matter. I was also very adamant that the mural had to be a good mural because unlike the artist we live here and have to look at it for years.

NS: What was the most rewarding/memorable aspect of working on the mural?

DG: I learned a lot about painting murals…painting in general. Olivia used a method of painting that Chinese artists have been using for centuries. The underpainting is in complementary colors, opposite of what the over painting would be. Underneath the portrait of Annie Glidden is a purple Picasso-like abstraction of a woman’s face. The colors of the over painting is much more believable by having the underpainting showing through just a little, creating a vibration between the two colors. That is why the mural glows and it is very vivid.

NS: What is your favorite piece in the mural and why?

DG: My favorite piece of the mural is the composition. The contract only allowed 25% of the wall to be painted, the rest of the wall was slated for advertisements. Olivia took the risk of spreading out the postcard theme to theoretically cover the whole wall, but only painting 25% of it. She almost lost the contract, but the building owners signed just three days before negotiations expired. Olivia was congratulated for creating an innovated post-modern mural. Its Merits Recommend It.