What is the History of Paces’ Mural?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In response to an “Ask the Gazette” attempting to date the mysterious black-and-white painting, the Daily Gazette managed to track down alum Tim Applebee ’03, who painted the existing Paces mural with a few other students over the summer of 2002. When asked casually about the history of the mural, Applebee responded, through email, with an answer that just couldn’t be spliced for a brief “Ask the Gazette”. His response is republished, with his permission, below.

I should say that the question regarding the mural’s history is curious to me, but I’ll play along till the ink runs dry. I mean, is the person asking if it’s ok to paint over it? That’s a good question, since it’s not my property. Gotta ask somebody else about that. Or maybe s/he wants to know why those characters got painted in the first place? In that case, permit me to write more than you are willing to read.

The original mural is still in place, in fact. I was supposed to touch up prior damage to it, but I’m not sure I even did that. You see it right as you walk in. It’s painted differently (shocker). I don’t know who painted it. I remember diamonds and googly people blending with the kitchen door. That door is locked down, by the way, because if it wasn’t, food would learn how to walk.

Anyway, there was an open call for proposals, so I put one together with a few friends and got selected. I proceeded to paint an entirely different mural than the one I proposed. Go figure. The managers didn’t want garish colors, so I tried to keep it monochrome. I don’t think the color is all that successful, but we do the best we can, I suppose.

Why the big white hairy feet? There used to be a “Where the Wild Things Are” party that rocked the floor of Paces every semester. It was famous, but it was a one woman show. So when she graduated, it graduated. Who knows why she did it… Top shelf bar, “poetic” beverages, NYC DJ, pheromones, cops, crazy times. So when I was thinking about solving the question of what to paint, one of those monsters from the kid’s book came to me like a candy coated version of some visceral college nights.

The elevated WPA mural in the top floor of what’s-that-building probably influenced the elevated aspect of my mural. I kept the walls as white as possible so the painting could melt away a bit when people were sitting at tables in conversation. Ideally, you notice it only when you stop to look around. The height also intended to keep it away from too much abuse. Not that it’s sacred, it’s just some paint on some walls.

Conceptually, the feet of the body symbolize the peasants, the torso the acting government, and the head the intellectuals. I guess the medieval idea–quite literally–was that they all worked together (labor, organization, analysis). So for the mural, I liked the idea of putting the feet at head level. I don’t know, maybe it makes you think you should hold on to your hat. Maybe it makes you feel subterranean. Things are mixed up and put together, you are in a liminal time and place, no big deal.

Anyway, you can see me, the artist in boots, facing the viewer, perpendicular to the stream of feet that gathers momentum toward the door frame where the figures in the mural enter into their free fall. Jake Beckman, NYC sculptor/conceptual artist, famous for sundry works, didn’t paint anything on the mural, but he roughed in the boots that are falling. He doesn’t know it, or maybe he does, but I regard those boots as him.

Come to think of it, he did help me paint a room in my house, but that was a couple years after we graduated. I guess I had helped him paint a forlorn bathroom in Beardsley completely green and the wall partitions shock blue. You should have seen the look on the faces of the I.T. guys. I’m pretty sure they liked their new restroom. I hope the statute of limitations is up on that one. It was slated for renovation anyway.

So Audrey Chan, fashionista, artist, sketched the footwear of the people sitting at the tables. She was known for her Phoenix comic serial: The French Blob, a jelly bean creature who wore a scarf and boots and commented snootily on fashion. Audrey is clever like that.

Fabien Tepper helped draw the dancers. I guess sometimes Paces parties aren’t that full, but people still like to dance and feel alive while they can. I’d have to say that Fabien is one of them. Karaoke is her best friend. So one of those dancers is her, and they should be the last thing to be painted over, I feel.

There is a girl next to the artist wearing sandals, lifting one foot off the ground, kissing me sweetly. I’ve always been precariously self-indulgent (e.g. this email), but a silent self portrait seemed harmless at the time, and what the hell, I was in love with her. She was the girl who threw the Wild Things parties, by the way, and she keeps being fantastic. In fact, we’re about to have our second son.

I’m sorry about how this turned into a retrospection of sorts, but someone asked about the mural, and for better or worse, the mural is a generalized representation of me, my time and my people at Swat. And I don’t suppose anyone will complain about my answer cuz it wasn’t that specific of a question to start with. I’d like to hear what Diego Johnson has to say about the history of his mural in Olde Club. What about the curious mechanical buttons in Beardsley? Ever wonder about them? Anybody making art anymore, pushing any buttons?

Should you be unable to figure it out by now, I also appreciate the opportunity to tell a current Swattie, if only one of them, what campus used to be like, and what it’s like in my mind 5 years after graduation. It’s one of those things that seems absurdly important, writing to someone who could be ten years younger than myself. Wow. I mean, you know what I mean.

Tim Applebee

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