Artists capture sea life on aquarium wall

The Kentucky EnquirerJuly 12, 2014 

— Emerging from the north wall of the Newport Aquarium is a 300-foot-long sea of aquatic animals hand-painted by local artists.

A team from ArtWorks Cincinnati is painting the massive image that includes a 35-foot-long sand tiger shark and 25-foot-tall African penguin.

The mural's design and sheer size is sure to grab eyes from across the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati as well as those of visitors to Newport's riverfront festivals, Newport on the Levee and the aquarium itself.

It's the only ArtWorks project this summer in Northern Kentucky, commissioned by the Newport Aquarium in celebration of its 15th anniversary and with a nod toward the community.

"We thought it was a neat way to engage the community," said aquarium spokesman Jeff Geiser.

The aquarium hopes people will watch the mural's progress, take photos and post them to social media networks using #SharkWall through the summer.

The mural is the largest that the nonprofit ArtWorks has taken on, and everything had to be carefully planned out, including the design of scaffolding by American Scaffolding that gets artists all the way across and up and down the wall, said Jenny Ustick, project manager and an ArtWorks veteran.

"Because of the unusual shape of this building it has been an interesting and really exciting challenge," Ustick said.

Mural designer and artist Rosalind "Roz" Tallmadge, 26, a Cincinnati native and graduate student in fine arts at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, captured the feel of the aquarium with its sea creatures and is leading a team of student apprentices who are helping her paint the mural.

Looking at the wall facing the Ohio River on a recent morning, Tallmadge pointed out some of the oddities of the surface that has become her canvas.

"It's such a long, thin shape and has an irregular curve," Tallmadge said. She decided on a realistic rendering including the huge shark and penguin that will be visible across the river as well as smaller images of aquatic animals, from the tiniest of fish to playful otters and even a shark ray.

"It's definitely a lot of work to finish it," Tallmadge said, smiling.

The apprentices are from all over Greater Cincinnati. Ustick said an ArtWorks goal with this mural was to ensure that Northern Kentucky students took part.

One of them is Jenna Webster, 18 and newly graduated from Scott High School in Covington. She has been accepted to Northern Kentucky University and plans a major in graphic design.

She took a few minutes away from the gigantic project Wednesday as fellow apprentices were marching up and down scaffolding and along the stretch of wall.

Webster said the hands-on experience is invaluable to her.

"I'm working with people I wouldn't usually meet. It's a team process," she said. "You ask your team to critique your individual work. You have to make your styles match."

The process is an education, Webster said, and Tallmadge said the people who see the mural will have their own learning experience.

Those who get close to the mural will have a detailed view of the multitude of painted sea animals. From across the river, people will be able to clearly identify the African penguin and, of course, the sand tiger shark, at the very least.

Tallmadge said she incorporated realistic images within her design so that viewers can absorb the aquatic animals' true characteristics.

The artists are at work every weekday for hours at a time, and every day, the mural changes significantly.

Newport Aquarium's Geiser said it's startling to watch the rapid progress of their work.

Said Ustick: "This will be finished just in time for the Riverfest fireworks. It's exciting to think about how many eyes will be on it."

Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com

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