On Thursday morning, the first day of Hopscotch, painter David Eichenberger stares at an off-kilter A-frame ladder.
One set of the ladder’s legs sits on a platform nearly a foot above the second, and the entire thing is perched atop tall metal scaffolding in front of AHPeele Studio in downtown Raleigh. Eichenberger is one word into a six-word mural, and he looks at the silver ladder, uneasy.
“Are you going to climb that thing?” I ask, peering up at him from below the metal tangle. A few onlookers crane their necks to get a better view. Even cars on notoriously zippy Capital Boulevard slow to observe the proceedings.
“I suppose I’m going to have to,” Eichenberger replies from underneath his straw sun hat, steeling himself for the climb. He steps carefully and steadily, summiting with a bucket of yellow paint and a collection of stencils at his side.
Eichenberger takes the same measured approach when he begins to paint. With the support of the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Raleigh Murals Project, the painter is painstakingly hand-lettering quotes by M.C. Escher on local businesses throughout downtown Raleigh, leading toward the opening of The Worlds of M.C. Escher at NCMA Oct. 17.
On Thursday, he’s painting “Sometimes ‘beauty’ is a nasty business” on the front of a T-shirt shop. Friday would bring a quote about wonder to a pizza parlor. In all, Eichenberger is painting five murals. He’s working on one inside Holder Goods and Crafts Sept. 16, and will likely finish at Poole’s Diner next week.
“We worked with local businesses who were excited to be a part of this project because of Escher’s works,” explains Jedidiah Gant, co-founder of the Raleigh Murals Project, an online advocacy group for bringing public art to urban spaces. “A pizza joint, T-shirt company, art gallery, chocolate factory and a design lab all share a common thing: a love of public art and Escher’s legacy in the design world.”
Gant tapped Eichenberger for the project and paired the artist with local businesses that agreed to host the murals at least through January 2016—the duration of the Escher exhibit at NCMA.
“We’ve seen and loved the other murals that Jed and the Raleigh Murals Project brought downtown, and thought this would be a fun, exciting way to bring art and the words of Escher to the community,” explains Emily Kowalski, the museum’s communications manager.
Due to copyright restrictions, Kowalski says, the group couldn’t reproduce any of Escher’s iconic works in mural form. So they got creative.
“Escher said some very interesting things—as mind-bending and thought-provoking as his famous prints—so we decided to go with quotes for the murals. Plus, his quotes show how he thought while creating his illusions, his discipline and his playfulness,” Kowalski says.
Eichenberger put his own touch on the project by creating a custom font from Escher’s woodblock prints. He turned each letter into a custom stencil, which he then uses to paint the murals.
“That was my favorite part,” says Eichenberger, “but there were only a couple of letters, like a Z or a Q, so I had to develop my own typeface for the project. I could have just picked a typeface from Illustrator or something, but I wanted to come up with something creative and unusual. When you have parameters and you have to think of creative ways to work inside of them, it’s always a lot of fun.”
“In a way,” Kowalski says, “even the murals’ letters are works of art themselves.”