City Above

Background Information

1990, Terry Schoonoven. 44'6" l x 28'w (main panel), 10'l x 12'w (each of five coffers). 660 S. Figueroa
Shortly after being hired as the art consultant for the Home Savings Tower in 1987, Tamara Thomas contacted Terry Schoonhoven to execute a mural in the six coffers in the ceiling above the Figueroa Street portal of the Red Line. The completion of the mural, originally scheduled for 1989, was postponed one year because of construction delays on the Red Line. Schoonhoven developed his design using a model of the building and architectural drawings. His initial design was a six panel mural depicting a sequence of time, beginning in a primitive primordial age and ending with a present day street scene. Home Savings, however, recommended extending the street scene in the main panel out into the five lateral coffers. The completed mural reflects Schoonhoven's attraction to baroque painters, particularly Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Like Tiepolo, Schoonhoven framed a panel in an oval, brought fantasy to his composition, incorporated forced perspectives, created a contemporary scene, and opened up the ceiling and made it disappear. Unlike the people in Tiepolo's murals, who participate and interact in events recorded in scripture, ancient history or mythology, the people in Schoonhoven's mural are disconnected and positioned to emphasize their isolation and separation. The people in "City Above," which portray the racial and ethnic diversity of workers and visitors in downtown, are based on photographs taken of pedestrians in the area. Schoonhoven also included a woman in kimono as a reference to the ownership of much of downtown's real estate by the Japanese at the time the mural was completed, a portrait of Tiepolo carrying a sketch pad and wearing a baseball cap turned backwards, and a self portrait, depicting himself as a wino wrapped up in a blanket.

Unlike the installations by Patsy Norvell and Joyce Kozloff, which connect with the architecture of the building, Schoonhoven's mural relates to space beyond the building and the space occupied by the viewer. When riding the escalator up from the subterranean Metrorail station, the buildings and people in the "City Above" appear to move. This illusion in the trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) mural, created by a vanishing point aligned with the bottom of the stairway, was incorporated because Schoonhoven feels the city, influenced by the movies, is a place of illusion.(1)

Schoonhoven made a scale drawing of the mural, divided it with a grid, and divided the ceiling into a matching grid. After using these grids to draw the buildings' outline on the ceiling, Schoonhoven painted the sky, clouds and the buildings' basic colors. Schoonhoven then drew in the figures and details, and made many corrections and additions before completing the final painting.


1 Interview of Terry Schoonhoven by Michael Several, November 8, 1991.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, December 1999.

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