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News . Feature Stories . Scaling up for high-visibility commission

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February 27, 2017

Scaling up for high-visibility commission

CIA grad Mata '16 installs painting in EY Tower

Scaling up for high-visibility commission

By Betsy O’Connell

Elmi Ventura Mata’s sweeping explosion of colors now dominates the north wall of the EY Tower Lobby in the Flats East Bank. It’s not the first commission piece for Mata, who graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art last year, but “this is the most professional one in a public space,” he said. “It was a huge undertaking.’’

It also wasn’t what he originally submitted for the Ernst & Young Tower Lobby Art Competition, which was set up to give aspiring CIA artists an outlet for showcasing their art and nurturing and developing their talent. Mata’s work was selected by judges from Flats East Bank management, owners, partners and tenants to be displayed in the EY Lobby. His painting will be on view for a year before a new winner’s work takes its place.

“My proposal was composed of images from downtown — really Cleveland specific — that I painted, almost like a mosaic of different panels,’’ recalled Mata, who graduated in 2016 with a BFA in Drawing and Painting. “It’s funny how things work out.”

Contestants submitted work samples, and Mata’s included an abstract painting called “Bridges,” which he made during his sophomore year using house and acrylic paints. That painting won him the competition.

The dominant pallet in “Bridges” was blues and yellow, and some orange. For the lobby piece, he was asked to emphasize the orange, so he added some purples to complement that request. He also wanted to recapture the distinct brushstrokes of his original, which delivered lots of movement.

Dark browns color much of his current work as a grad student at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. “My task as a painter is to tell the narrative of the immigrant experience in the U.S.’’

The lobby piece, he said, “is almost on the other end of the spectrum of my painting practice, where there is so much color. You can kind of see the figures in the negative space.’ Having this break to make this completely abstract painting that is not too political gave me a chance to breathe. I think I really needed that.’’

Mata said the biggest different between “Bridges” and the lobby piece was his intent.

“In ‘Bridges,’ I was attempting to home in on developing a mark on the canvas that was synonymous with my name,” he said. “I wanted to distinguish myself from my peers, so that when I hung a painting in the hallway, you would immediately recognize the work.

“While ‘Bridges’ was composed using figures as a starting point, I now feel as if I know who the figures are in the re-creation,’’ he added.

Mata built his own frames for the 13-by-20-foot piece, stretched the canvas, prepped the surfaces and then painted for two weeks straight. He rented and drove the truck with the lobby piece from Philadelphia to Cleveland. He also included eight of his new paintings for a fall exhibit at the University of Findlay.

“I was there while they were installing. I hope they aren’t disappointed,’’ said Mata. “You’re the most critical person of your work. Working in my studio on something so large, there’s a different feeling when you see it in the actual space. It looked kind of small.’’

Competition panelist Iris Wolstein, CEO of The Wolstein Group, was pleased with the end result. “Everybody is fighting for their point of view,’’ said Wolstein. “The painting is an explosion of color and emotions. I’m thrilled with it.’’

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