The Mural Boom: An Interview With Artist Ali Hval

Photos courtesy of the artist

The Mural Boom: An Interview With Artist Ali Hval

by Sean Tyler

February 6, 2022

There is a big art show happening. How big? As large as the entire state of Iowa. Two offices at the University of Iowa, The Grant Wood Artist Colony, and the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), have been partnering with towns, municipal offices, arts organizations, and artists from across the state to complete public arts projects.

Quite a few of the artists completing these projects are Graduate Students from the University of Iowa’s Painting and Drawing program. Several of these artists who got their start working with the IISC and Grant Wood have gone on to build a thriving mural practice. I talked to one of these alumni, Ali Hval, about her experience as a student and a muralist.

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me! How did you start working with the IISC?

AH: I began working with them by complete accident! One of the graduate students in my cohort was actually supposed to begin a project with what was then known as the Office Outreach and Engagement (This program has been merged into the IISC), but they ended up having to bow out. This person had asked me to assist them on the project, and after they withdrew, the project fell to me. It was a bit terrifying to think of designing and painting something at such a large scale, but I was up for the challenge and grateful for the opportunity that jumpstarted my public art career. From that came the first mural project I completed from design to installation!

Sunset on the Mississippi, Clinton Iowa, 2017. Photo courtesy of artist.

ST: Is there anything you want to share about that experience? Would you recommend it to other painters?

AH: I would definitely recommend working with IISC. I had the support and resources to learn how to accomplish large scale mural projects, and also learned more about professional development and how to facilitate community outreach projects. My experiences with them immensely helped all aspects of my artistic career and studio practice. While working, I was paid for making a design and mural installation, and the University assisted me with costs such as mileage, supplies, lodging, and meals. I also learned more about writing contracts and budgeting. This helped me realize the hidden costs that go behind a public art project that I now make transparent to any future clients in a budget to help them understand why a mural or work of art is priced the way it is.

Across Iowa (American Discovery Trail) Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Greene Square, Cedar Rapids Iowa, 2019. Photo courtesy of artist.

ST: What is your favorite part of working on murals?

AH: It's incredibly satisfying seeing your art exist in the public realm for years and years; people interact with it in a different way than they do a gallery exhibition, taking selfies and videos in front of it, and it feels much more accessible for the average passerby. Painting murals has also helped my stamina in terms of working on larger projects in my studio. If I can work on a mural that's 100 feet long, who is to say what I can't accomplish in my personal studio work? Metaphorically, it's similar to running a 5 mile uphill trail, and then thinking a 2 mile run is nothing when before it may have seemed like too much. It really builds your artistic endurance, which I fully realized when working on more intricate studio projects.

ST: What is your favorite mural you’ve done so far?

AH: The mural and light installation I completed for Studio 13 in Iowa City is the one I've had the most fun looking back at after I've finished it. It's also located in what I consider my home city, and it's heartwarming to walk by it when I'm running errands or working downtown. The facade was a rough surface to paint, and there were a lot of tricky moments with it where I had to step back to make sure things were lined up properly on the shifting surfaces throughout. However, seeing how it fluctuates appearance depending on the time of day with the neon lights feels refreshing and contemporary, especially when compared to a traditional mural that is best viewed during daylight hours. During the day, the rainbow saturated colors pop in the alley, and at night, it can be seen from far away with its bright neon lights to draw the viewer in.

Painting Studio 13, Mural and light installation completed for Studio 13, a bar and nightclub, in Iowa City, Iowa. 2021. Photo by Christopher Hunter.

Studio 13 Mural and light installation completed for Studio 13, a bar and nightclub, in Iowa City, Iowa. 2021. Photo courtesy of artist.

The IISC maintains a database of all their public art projects so make sure to check and see what murals are up in your town! Or maybe find some friends and take a road trip to see something new.