Where other people may see gray concrete ramparts, artist Marina Zumi envisions glittering constellations, the magic of the quantum theory and the human-nature connection.
That is the vision that Zumi, a South American graffiti muralist with an international following, is using along with more than 200 cans of spray paint to transform the first floor of the new Montana State University parking garage into a massive mural.
The Argentinian street artist, who is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but now based in São Paulo, Brazil, is braving the inconsistency of Montana spring weather to paint a magical-realist vision that emanates from a giant bobcat head and radiates outward in waves of mountains, clouds and stars. Nearly a week into the 12-day project, the work is drawing interest, admiration and quite a few smiles.
“A lot of people stop by and like it,” said Zumi, who largely spray paints the design freehand as she goes. Zumi said that there is no way to learn how to do the large-scale murals other than by practicing it.
“I learned to do this in the street,” she said about the complex image. Zumi said she came to street art through the world of fashion, and “there is no university where you can learn to do this. You just have to do it.”
Zumi, who is used to a more tropical climate, bundled in a parka and gloves to paint in the garage during weather that has been unseasonably chilly. She has used a special type of spray paint adapted to adhere in weather extremes that is called “Montana.”
“This project reflects MSU’s vibrant energy and the transformational power of education,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Turning a parking garage into a space for artistic expression helps our students see how creativity can shape their campus and make the world a more exciting place in which to live.”
The project is the first of several installations of permanent public art planned for the garage, which opened in January, according to Royce Smith, dean of the MSU College of Arts and Architecture. Smith is the driving force to bring contemporary public art to the garage as well as other spots on campus.
Smith said when the subject of public art for the garage was first raised, he immediately thought of Zumi, with whom he had worked when he was the principal curator of the 2015 Asunción Biennale in Paraguay on a Fulbright Fellowship. This is the first project in the western U.S. for Zumi, who has made a name for herself with street art displays in Central and South America, as well as New York, Chicago and Miami.
“I like how her art combines philosophy, science, nature and human connections,” Smith said. He said one of the exciting aspects of Zumi’s project has been the interactions with people stopping by and conversing with the artist and admiring her work.
“The mural project has brought together all of the dimensions of the MSU family together. It’s gratifying to see how art can make us more aware of the beauty we have around us every day.”
Zumi said she jumped at the chance to work on the MSU mural. “When (Smith) said he had this project at MSU, I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Zumi said.
During her time at MSU, Zumi was also a panelist in the 2017 MSU President’s Fine Arts Event, which was devoted to a discussion of the importance of public art. Zumi said that her art form – street art and graffiti – has grown in popularity in recent years. Among the most well-known artists in the discipline is the secretive artist Banksy.
Smith said the university is working toward future installations in the garage that will include Native American-themed murals to be created by Matika Wilber, a Seattle-based photographer from the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, and a colored glass installation documenting some of Montana’s most prominent geographic features being planned by Tad Bradley, assistant teaching professor in MSU’s School of Architecture. Smith said each of the college’s four schools – the School of Music, School of Art, School of Film and Photography and School of Architecture – will have installations in the garage that will bring together sound, image and space.
“And, we’re going to be adding a few surprises, too,” Smith said. “The installations are going to transform the building and, eventually, our beautiful campus.”
Smith said the idea of a public art initiative has been well-received on campus.
“Our campus is really engaged and enthusiastic, and that makes sense. Universities, especially MSU, are all about supporting new ideas.”
Zumi is scheduled to finish up her work at MSU on Wednesday, April 19. She then travels to a solo exhibition in Berlin.
Royce Smith (406) 994-6654, email@example.com