Colour Theory

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Muralist Stephanie Boutari was commissioned last year to create two colourful murals for the fourth floor of the Math and Computing building. We sat down with her to discuss mathematical inspiration, her journey as an artist, and her changing relationship to architecture. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie stands in front of a colourful mural

How did you get started as an artist?

Art has always been my favorite thing to do, ever since I was a child, but I didn’t believe that art as a profession was a real possibility. When it came time to choose a university program, I chose architecture because it seemed like a stable career path that would also be a creative outlet.

I initially went to the University of Toronto  but then decided to transfer to Waterloo because of the co-op program and stronger focus on studio work. By the end of the program though, I was really missing art. I kind of felt like I wanted a way to bring it back to my everyday life.

How did you decide to start doing murals?

During my master’s in architecture at Waterloo, I began researching colourful architecture and public art, and was inspired by amazing graffiti artists like the German artist MadC – she creates these huge abstract art murals that totally change the identity of the building.

There was a  building directly across from the UW Architecture school  in Cambridge that I thought would be a perfect canvas for a mural, so I approached the owner and asked him if I could paint it for my master’s thesis. I had never painted a mural before – had never even painted with spray paint! But the owner was really nice, and even paid for my paint himself. Painting that mural made me realize I wanted to keep doing this – but I didn’t have the courage yet.

After graduation, I got a job working as an architectural designer, but started doing more and more murals on the side. The great thing about public murals is you can get a lot of work through exposure and word of mouth.

Architecture is a great profession for some people, but I found it so stressful. Finally, in 2017, my appendix burst! It felt like a wake up call. I decided to  pursue murals full time, and have been ever since.

What goes into making one of your murals?

It can be a few weeks or even a year from the first conversation with a client to the final product. I start by considering the site, its context, architectural features, and usage. I look for inspiration, both from the client and in things I see around me such as nature, surrounding buildings, patterns, textures.

Then I start preparing concepts. I’m always thinking about scale and the physical experience of the design. I sometimes use these little 3-D printed people at different scales to help me think.

I go back and forth with the client, from rough sketches and ideas to a polished design. The actual painting  usually takes one or two weeks depending on the size, type of paint used, if lifts or ladders are needed, or if a lot of taping is required.

What considerations did you incorporate into the mural in MC?

We set out to make something uplifting and math-inspired, as well as something distinct that would help students find the Math Undergraduate Office and enliven the hallway

Obviously my work already involves a lot of geometric features, but I also looked to a lot of other inspirations: mathematical concepts, drawings, graphs, and computer science. The final design for the first wall was really driven by the idea of pi, so circles are a dominant element.

On a compositional level, I wanted the murals to have a sense of rhythm and flow as you walk by. I tied the two murals together by using similar visual language and colour palettes but also giving them each their own distinct identities. For example, I carried over a pink chevron from the end of the first  wall to the beginning of the second one, but then broke it down into squares that are meant to represent computer pixels.The idea behind the second wall is an imaginary 3D geometric structure that is breaking up to reveal the hidden layers of computing and math behind it.

What are you planning to do next?

As far as murals are concerned,  I hope to continue working on new projects. I’d love to paint a multi-story building one day, and work more with vertical space. I’d also love to make textiles: move my art from something that’s part of the landscape to something worn on the body.

What do you hope to communicate with your work?

My goal is always to make something uplifting. I want to inspire joy – to spark creativity or conversation, to bring energy and life to a wall or building.