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Four years ago, Mat Tomezsko was working on a project with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society when he had an idea to make Broad Street look cooler. He envisioned a mural that would stretch along several blocks of the Avenue of the Arts median.
The idea got shelved at the time, but is now having its day. The Democratic National Convention Host Committee asked Mural Arts executive director Jane Golden if she had any ideas for the DNC. She pitched the median project, and it was approved.
“All of a sudden I got a call from Jane Golden saying, ‘Hey, you remember that project you worked on?” Tomezsko said. “‘Well, we are doing it now — and it’s bigger.’”
And so, during the DNC, the center of Broad Street from City Hall to Washington Ave. will be home to a mile-long mural called 14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words. Installation of the vinyl stripes begins the week of July 18, and the hope is that the mural will last for up to eight weeks.
“It’s basically a huge abstract composition that incorporates elements of musical composition, poetry, as well as visual art,” said Tomezsko, 29. The Tyler School of Art grad explained that he wants the mural to represent what it’s really like to live in America. “It’s a deceivingly simple structure — space broken up into stripes — but within it are these dynamic forces moving throughout.”
The colorful stripes incorporate different elements, such as poetry by Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher.
“Poetry teaches me about visual art a lot. It helps me think outside of my normal mode of thinking,” Tomezsko said.
Wisher said Tomezsko reached out to her about using words from her 2014 collection of poems called Monk Eats an Afro. Wisher’s poetry is a combination of her personal story and the historical story of what it’s like to be black in America and a woman, she said, and she thinks of the text in the mural as a sort of word puzzle.
“For me, I think they’re my poems, and they’re about my story, but they hold a lot of other voices,” Wisher said. “It’s almost as if we’re able to bring all of those voices to Broad Street in the text of the piece.”
The design also takes inspiration from music. Because the painting is a mile long, it takes time to see the entire thing. “You have to listen to [a] symphony in order to get the experience, and so it has that element to it,” Tomezsko said. “It has that experiential quality.”
Several people are working alongside Tomezsko to create the mural, mostly because he made the decision to paint the entire thing by hand.
“It’s kind of idiotic to be down on your hands and knees like painting with a small brush [for something of this scale], but I want it to be an exciting thing for people to see,” he said.
Workers also helped with some of the other prep work, like cutting vinyl, but Tomezsko gets the final call on every facet of the piece, said his older brother Greg Tomezsko, also an artist.
The brothers were raised in Cheltenham, and Tomezsko attended St. Joe’s Prep. After earning a multidisciplinary degree in painting and poetry from Temple, Mat’s first job out of college was as an architectural draftsman for his dad’s construction company in 2009.
Some of the skills he picked up there came in handy for this project, like knowing how to create models that can then scale up to real-world installations. To create the Broad Street design, Tomezsko made a layout of the painting at 1:148. He did this by measuring the entire Broad Street median to the inch to make sure the final mural would fit just right.
“This project has been interesting because I’ve been able to draw on a lot of my experiences that have seemingly nothing to do with art,” Tomezsko said. “I feel weirdly, uniquely qualified for this gig.”
Tomezko’s first Mural Arts job came in 2011 — a series of 30 paintings called Look Long and Look Good about the people and history of Manayunk. In 2013, his series of 94 paintings addressing urban violence called There Is No was included in the Crane Arts exhibition Juvenile In Justice. InLiquid founder and executive director Rachel Zimmerman worked with Tomezsko for six weeks on that project, and when he reached out to her for a job six months later, she gave him one. He now works as an InLiquid curator and exhibition manager, although only part time so he can continue painting and expanding his artistic career.
Tomezsko explains painting as “something that happens” to him. He’ll often wake up in the middle of the night and have a fully formed idea that he has to get down. It’s part of who he is. Indeed, Greg Tomezsko said his favorite aspect of 14 Movements is that it incorporates so much of his brother’s personality.
“He’s boisterous and funny and outgoing and very empathetic, and I think all of those qualities come through in the mural,” Greg said.
“I’m hoping Mat will have a great sense of pride once he sees this installed,” said InLiquid’s Zimmerman. “What an impressive thing to say: ‘I did this!’”