I met Mat Tomezsko in a vacant area that could easily house a tourist bus, at the Painted Bride in Old City, Philadelphia. Mat has temporarily taken up studio space there to paint a mural that will be installed in the Fifth Street Vehicular Tunnel underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge. Waiting for Mat, I couldn’t help but notice a large abstract painting on parachute cloth, measuring 14 by 33 feet, spread out on the floor from one end of the room to the other. It was composed of rhythmic diagonal panels in various shades of blue and turquoise that sometimes intersected to create a classic X, punctuated with diagonal swaths of texture, color, and imagery referencing the landscape. Mat enters and quickly explains that this is only one panel of the mural. The completed mural, titled Flowering Axes, will measure 14 x 120 feet. From there, we went on to discuss the concept and process behind the Delaware River Port Authority’s (DRPA) Fifth Street Vehicular Tunnel Project, awarded to Mat this past spring.
With a clear concept that resonated with the surrounding space as well as the viewpoint of drivers, riders, and the DRPA, Mat’s proposal was selected from a competitive roster of finalists. “I considered the experience of drivers and riders, in a car or on a bike, in this strange subterranean tunnel in the middle of the city,” he explained. “It goes by really fast, like two seconds; it has to be easily intelligible, but not boring. Every time one moves through the space they will notice something new. It appears simple, but as you drive through, the perspective changes and the composition expands vastly. Subtle, beautiful details unfold as it opens up and becomes a landscape before it quickly recedes in your rear view mirror and turns back into simple shapes.”
With shapes and colors reflecting the surrounding area, diagonal blue panels intersect at various points, symbolizing the X formations that make up the Ben Franklin Bridge. In shades of blue and turquoise, these panels mirror the surrounding sky and water. The blue alternates with textured and stenciled diagonal panels that remind us of the architecture, landscape, sky, flora, and horizon line of the surrounding area. This past June, Mat began painting this magnificent, mesmerizing experience, which viewers’ eyes and minds will process in two-second intervals as they pass under the Ben Franklin Bridge. Installation is planned for August of this year.
The installation, to be implemented by a team from Mural Arts Philadelphia, will be led by Mat and requires complete shutdown of the tunnel during night hours for approximately two weeks. The process can best be described as a massive, industrial-strength wallpapering job. Instead of wheat paste, the team will apply acrylic gel medium to the walls. Next, the mural panels, made of acrylic paint on durable parachute cloth, will be adhered to the concrete walls of the tunnel. Finally, a layer of glossy, acrylic, gel medium will be applied to the entire painting to protect it and assure that we will enjoy Flowering Axes for decades.
By the time installation is completed and Flowering Axes is celebrated with a dedication ceremony in October, Mat will have returned to his private studio to make paintings. Mat contrasts work in the studio with his public projects: “The standard way of operating is to be in the studio, in total control, working on a pre-stretched canvas or surface that I’ve prepared. What I like about public art is that it’s a 50/50 give and take. When I walk into a public project, I have to listen and react to the organizers, viewers, and space to design a project that balances my new concept with an actual artwork that resonates with the people and surrounding community.” As I listen and reflect, it becomes clear to me that Mat is equally adept and accomplished whether painting privately in the studio or creating consensus around a public artwork such as Flowering Axes. Those interested are welcome to follow Mat’s progress and events surrounding Flowering Axes on Instagram.
Mat Tomezsko is a graduate of Tyler School of Art / Temple University. In 2017, Mat’s public art project, 14 Movements: A Symphony Of Color And Words, was recognized by the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) Year in Review for outstanding public art. Mat was also awarded the Art and Art Education Achievement Award In Painting and the Faculty Award In Art/Art Education for Strong Studio Work by Tyler School of Art in 2009. His paintings have been exhibited in museums and prestigious galleries across the United States. Learn more about Mat’s paintings and public art projects at https://www.mattomezsko.com.