Intergenerational Collaborations Create Meaningful Public Art

Olivia Gude

Large-scale collaborative permanent public art is my medium of choice. I create community-based monuments that arise out of intensive collaborative processes with intergenerational groups of community members and with other professional artists.

Combining practices of contemporary art and critical theory with the Chicago community street mural tradition, I have sought to further develop a form of public art located within and "owned" by the community. I am interested in developing a form that affirms the possibility of "paradoxical community"-a phrase taken from Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytic writing. Public art can affirm connectedness and simultaneously generate difficult discussions about the contradictions of personal choice and collective responsibility in these complex times.

Many of my projects involve weaving together the diverse images contributed by members of a community design group. The aim is not to create a seamless whole, but rather to develop an aesthetic medium in which multiple points of view co-exist, representing, not fractured traditionalism, but rather the postmodern acceptance of difference and multiplicity.

As a painter I have sought to revitalize the street mural form by making pieces that accentuate a painterly quality and that use large scale and multiple walls as a means of creating color fields that engulf the viewer in a sensual experience of hue and texture. Based on the brushwork of my mural Before the Game: Eternal Practice in Los Angeles and my interest in the kinetic, body-based marks of spray can artists, I create images out of distinct diagonal strokes in sharply contrasting hues. Rather than try to have all the artists on a project I direct paint in a single style, I foreground different styles and strokes so that the individual contributions are clearly highlighted.

I incorporate oral history, quotations, and poetry created out of everyday language into my murals and mosaics. In pieces such as the mural, Where We Come From...Where We're Going, and the banner project, Echoes of the Heart, many individual voices make up the text of the works. I have become increasingly aware of the unity or monological quality of most public art produced. I am interested in developing a heteroglossic (many voiced) public art. I am developing projects in which a single word or concept becomes the focus for a collective, heterogeneous exploration.

I first became interested in the medium of mosaic because of its potential to draw many people into the design and making of the work. These projects are ideally suited for intergenerational workshops. People's interest in craft and social interchange create opportunities for rich intergenerational conversations. It's great to see adults and teens working side by side-sharing tips on mosaic technique and stories about each others' lives. Mosaic making requires thousands of individual choices-decisions about how to tessellate (tile) a given area. My mosaics alternate between flowing tile work that creates form and flat areas that emphasize the geometric structure of the work. I also like to designate areas of "free-style tile" where participants can improvise tessellation designs. To me this conveys the amazing variety and harmony that can exist in a work of art and in a community.

As a young artist, I was given the gift of being initiated into a multi-racial tradition of community muralists that stretches back to the 1967 Wall of Respect. Thus, an important part of my artistic practice has been, and will continue to be, identifying and mentoring young artists from the diverse neighborhoods of Chicago and around the country, introducing these artists to the possibility of creating artwork in a public medium that is experimental and evolving as well as establish a tradition of connectedness to, and respect of, community life.

Olivia Gude is an artist and educator. She has created over 50 large-scale mural and mosaic projects, often working with inter-generational groups, teens, elders, and children. She has created major works in Los Angeles; Madison, Wisconsin; DeKalb, Illinois; and Covington, Kentucky as well as many in the Chicago area. Gude has received many grants and awards, has published numerous books and articles, and frequently presents lectures and workshops. Gude is a member of the Senior Artist Circle of the Chicago Public Art Group and is an active member of the Illinois Arts Council Artist in Residency Program.

For more information on collaborative public art practices, see the Chicago Public Art Group's Community Public Art Guide at

For information on writings and projects by Olivia Gude on contemporary art education practice, see the Spiral Art Education website.

Published by CAR_admin on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:22am
Updated on Wed, 07/09/2014 - 3:30pm