Sebastian Oliveiro is precise about his age (“six and a half”), has a sort-of-favorite color (“mostly yellow”) and is serious about his painting.
On Sunday morning, he squatted on a warm sidewalk under a blue sky streaked with cottony white clouds, armed with a red Solo cup half full of bright yellow paint that he dabbed and brushed into a large diamond on the concrete.
When it was almost solid yellow, he handed the brush to his mother.
“You paint the cracks,” Sebastian said. “You are my assistant, Mommy.”
Brandee and Sebastian Oliveiro were among dozens of assistants who brought Raleigh’s newest piece of public art to life on Sunday, a magic carpet painted on a sidewalk at North Hills.
The mural, a boldly colored geometric procession from the Anthropologie store to the Mura restaurant, is the creation of Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, a pair of Baltimore artists who specialize in vibrant, large-scale murals in public places: a subway tunnel in New York, a staircase in Knoxville and a sidewalk under the Space Needle in Seattle.
Their art is intensely geometrical and precise, which they admit is ironic. They were not the most attentive math students in school, but have come to appreciate the rigor and opportunities that geometry affords them.
“I love math, but I’m not good at it,” Truhn said. “Math brings me much joy. You’re either right or wrong, which can be very satisfying in a mixed-up world.”
They arrived in Raleigh with a design but abandoned it after they inspected the sidewalk’s pattern of lines and blocks. They chose a crack that centered the work and started improvising.
“We just designed it on the spot,” Unterhalter said.
They began on Friday with a coat of light blue primer before reaching for their most powerful tools: a chalk line for long and short straight lines, and a simple string to draw circles and arcs. Think of a grade school compass, but on walls and sidewalks rather than lined paper. On Saturday they roughed in the design using Sherwin Williams Porch and Floor Enamel as preparation for the public painting Sunday.
The two women are fond of sidewalks, which are ideal for community participation. It’s hard to fit a crowd in a cherrypicker lift when painting a three-story wall, but a public sidewalk, like Tom Sawyer’s whitewashed fence, is an ideal place for volunteers.
“It’s nice and social,” Truhn said. “People don’t know each other, but then talk and meet while they work on a sort of big coloring book.”
Sunday’s four hourly shifts of painters were filled in advance, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 11, when the sidewalk was edging toward egg-frying territory.
Erin and Jeffrey Robbins of Cary came to paint along with Madigan, their 5 1/2-year-old daughter. When traveling, the couple like to seek out murals in whatever city they are in.
“My husband and I like exploring art, and murals are a great way to experience art in a community,” she said.
Madigan showed up ready to add her own color: a turquoise tutu, a starry Nasa tanktop, knee socks covered with planets and galaxies, and gray shoes dotted with shiny silvery disks.
Madigan was happy to paint with purple, but owned up that it wasn’t her favorite color: “Tar Heel Blue.”
After filling in triangles and quadrilaterals for 40 minutes, Gerard Scofield of Raleigh stood back and nodded appreciatively at the organized riot of bold colors and shapes. He was so impressed that he wanted to take the mural home.
“I think I should do this to my driveway,” Scofield said. “That’s a benefit of not being in a homeowners’ association.”
A few minutes later came proof that great minds think alike. His girlfriend, Amy Riggleman, shouted at him from the end of the mural, where she was putting finishing touches on a purplish triangle.
“Gerard, we should paint our driveway like this!”