Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus



The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus, 1991
Roger Brown
120 North LaSalle Building

In Greek mythology, Daedalus, a very skilled Athenian artisan, was called upon by King Minos of Crete to build a labyrinth to confine the dreaded Minotaur, a half-bull and half-man monster. Instead, Daedalus helps a young hero escape from the monster and the angered king imprisons him and his son Icarus in the labyrinth. To escape, Daedalus makes wings of wax for himself and his son, and he warns his son not to fly too low because they will get wet from the waves of the sea and not to fly too high. However, Icarus gets caught up in the thrill of flying and forgets all of his father's advice. He flies too high, the sun's heat melts the wax and he plunges into the Aegean Sea.
Roger Brown (1941-1997), a prominent member of the Chicago Imagists, was commissioned by the Ahmanson Commercial Development Company (a subsidiary of Home Savings of America) and the architectural firm Murphy/Jahn Architects, to create murals for the Helmet Jahn-designed building at 120 North LaSalle Street. The brilliantly-colored composition, with the father and son floating amongst pillow-shaped clouds, draws the eye up the granite fa├žade.
Born in Hamilton, Alabama, Brown enrolled in Bible school at David Lipscomb College in Nashville with the expectation of becoming a preacher, but he became diverted after taking a life drawing class at the University of Nashville. He moved to Chicago in 1962, studying at the American Academy of Design and earning a degree from the School of the Art Institute (SAIC). In the late 1960’s and early 70's, Brown was among a group of fellow SAIC artists, including Ed Paschke, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt and others, who were inspired by European Surrealism. They developed the Chicago Imagist style, a version of pop art that worked to shock or excite audiences. According to the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, "Imagism became known as 'The Chicago Style' and it was this group of artists that put Chicago on the map for national and international art audiences."
In a 2012 interview with Time Out Chicago, Lisa Stone, curator of SAIC’s Roger Brown Study Collection, noted the 27-by-54 foot mosaic has several meanings, among them “[it] warns against the danger and futility of hubris.” Created from more than 900,000 tiles, it was assembled by a team in Shilimbergo, Italy, north of Venice. Made of colored, opaque glass and various metal powders, the mosaic took three weeks to install. Just inside the lobby is a smaller companion mosaic by Brown. It depicts an imaginative view of LaSalle Street, with planes flying overhead.

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