When describing the allure of a mural, New York artist Anne Harris calls out their immersive nature saying, “They command an interior, and they engulf a physical space and transport you.” She’s been practicing the art form ever since she first viewed Italian frescoes in person, an experience that was so powerful she describes it as “head spinning.” Harris notes that while wallpaper adds color and pattern to an interior, murals offer something else. “With wallpaper, you have a repeating pattern,” she says. “But with a mural, you have interest that continues around a room, and you can see the intent, the perspective and the hand of the artist.”
Painting murals is an ancient art, and they can be found decorating walls throughout the millennia, in places ranging from Egyptian tombs to Pompeiian homes to Indian palaces. But Harris sees the uptick in their recent popularity as a rebellion against “the white-gray-neutral rooms we’ve been living in the last several years.”
For some, the word “mural” conjures an image of traditional pastoral settings, but many contemporary muralists embrace an unexpected aesthetic. Take artist John-Paul Philippe, whose abstract work often contains a series of modern, biomorphic forms. With an architectural approach to his craft, he pulls inspiration from the spirit of the place where his murals will live. “A lot of my work is an articulation of what is going on around it,” says the artist, who splits his time between New York and Connecticut. He credits his use of color and form to his childhood in Oklahoma, where he had an unofficial apprenticeship with the local billboard painter. “It made me completely unafraid to paint large,” he says.
Youthful experiences also influence San Francisco’s Rafael Arana, who began his artistic journey by spraying graffiti on walls around his hometown. Although he is no stranger to classic motifs, his work often has a different flavor—such as a pair of brilliantly hued iguanas that dance across the ceiling of a Presidio Heights mansion. Noting that many of his clients, even those in private residences, are looking for an Instagram-worthy moment, he adds: “Like graffiti, murals are an attention grabber— they stand out and start a conversation.” Arana says it’s that compelling quality that drives demand for his murals—some of which take several weeks of 16-hour days to complete. “A hand-painted mural is customizable and can bring a client’s vision to life,” he says. “It can tell a story the way few other elements can.”
Learn how designers are incorporating murals into recent projects, as five experts give their take on the increasingly popular illustrations.