Poetry in Motion

The interior Wardwell installation; the dominant color is hot pink.
Mike Lovett
MOVING ART: The interior panels read “When you arrive, I’ll catch you wherever you fall.”

Painter Joe Wardwell’s latest mural installation, at the citizenM Hotel atop Boston’s North Station, is a towering salute to life’s transitions, large and small.

Two multicolored murals, one installed inside the hotel’s lobby, the other affixed to its facade, dominate one of Boston’s busiest transportation/sports/entertainment hubs.

The exterior mural includes two panels measuring 60 by 33 feet and 60 by 23 feet. In enormous multicolored block letters, layered against a photographic background of barren trees and landscape, the larger mural announces, “Wherever you thought you were going.” The side exterior panel reads “Whatever place you’re coming from was way back when.”

If most passersby at street level are laser-focused on getting from point A to point B, the exterior mural commands them to stop, look up and reflect on where they are, literally and figuratively, in space and time.

“It’s meant to make you pause and perhaps even rethink your expectations,” says Wardwell, an associate professor of painting at Brandeis.

Wardwell was asked by the hotel to create the murals specifically for the site. The hotel’s curator selected the design from among a handful the artist submitted. Although Wardwell typically paints his murals, in this case — over several months — he digitally re-created his meticulous painting process, including the application of numerous layers of color. A graphic design company printed the huge murals and installed them using high-density automotive adhesive.

The words are lyrics from the song “Middle of Nowhere” by the Boston band Come. “I was thinking about North Station, a place of transition,” Wardwell explains. “And the neighborhood itself is in transition — it’s been gentrified, and now it’s getting an even newer facelift.

“For me, it’s kind of ideal to have that opportunity to work on a larger scale that is frequently used by advertising,” he continues. “I can play with the expectation that the message will be clear. Instead, I use intentionally ambiguous words in designs that are more dynamic than legible.”

The interior mural panels at the hotel lobby’s entrance measure 14 by 40 feet and 14 by 16 feet. “When you arrive, I’ll catch you wherever you fall,” the mural announces in large letters. The interior panels also include, in smaller lettering, the words of Boston’s West End residents, taken from political speeches, poetry, songs and movies. “The interior panels function on both a billboard scale and a more human scale,” says Wardwell.

If billboard-size installations seem anything but ambiguous, the text they include tells another story, one open to personal interpretation and emotion, depending on where you are in life’s journey.

“I hope the result makes people think and feel something they normally wouldn’t as they pass by,” Wardwell says.

— Laura Gardner, P’12