Rico Gatson with Amherst students
Rico Gatson with Amherst students Tacia Diaz ’19 and Chelsea Pan ’18

Just beyond the main gallery of Amherst’s celebrated Mead Art Museum is a new work unlike any the museum has displayed before. Created by renowned artist Rico Gatson in collaboration with Amherst students, the work covers five walls of a previously unassuming hallway inside the museum.

“The combination of color and converging lines adds movement to the hallway,” says Chloe Tausk ’19E, “transforming the space and creating a new atmosphere for guests to experience.”

Rico Gatson and Chloe Tausk '19E
Rico Gatson with Chloe Tausk '19E

Tausk, a studio art and English major from Chicago, is one of five students who created the mural with Gatson. “I did not know much about Rico’s work before the mural, but I love seeing and hearing about it now,” Tausk says. “I especially love that the Mead has a work of his on display right before the hallway.”

That work, titled St. James #3, is from a series of collage drawings by Gatson that served as the inspiration for the mural’s design. The series features iconic African-American personalities—among them Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali and James Baldwin—with colorful lines drawn from the center of each figure to the edge of the work.

“For years, I wanted to translate the power of the lines onto actual walls, creating an immersive experience or installation,” Gatson says. “The Hall Walls project has provided the perfect opportunity.”

Rico Gatson
Artist Rico Gatson

Working from a master plan, Gatson encouraged the students to brainstorm various approaches they might use when measuring, sketching and painting the mural.

“Working with Rico was incredibly rewarding,” says Emma Hartman ’17, an art history and chemistry major from upstate New York, “because he was so willing to involve us in the artistic decision-making process.”

For students interested in careers in the arts, the mural project provides insight into one of the many ways art might be central to their lives after Amherst. “Working with Rico has given me a glimpse of what projects a professional artist might focus on,” says Jay Fields ’17, who comes from the San Francisco Bay Area and is triple-majoring in black studies; sexuality, women’s and gender studies; and studio art.

For Fields, the mural project also relates to her academic and personal life at Amherst. “Mural painting has obvious links to my studio art major,” Fields says, “but my initial interest in the project mostly stemmed from wanting to see more murals throughout the Amherst campus.”

The mural remains on view through December 2017.

Related Video

February 21, 2017

Rico Gatson is the first artist behind the Mead Art Museum's "Hall Walls" project, which gives artists and students the freedom to create an ephemeral work of art on the walls of the museum. — Video by Maria Stenzel.