For a week you’ve been hearing nonstop about the unprecedented glimpse of the Higgs boson, the so-called God Particle. This isn’t more of the same. This is a story about (and an interview with) the dude who painted a large mural around the physicists doing that work. This rules.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting world-renowned artist Josef Kristofoletti at the CTC International headquarters during a little hang-out we put together for the last day of the Austin City Limits music festival.
Josef had recently moved back to the United States from Europe and was finishing up a mural next to Shepard Fairey’s large Austin outdoor gallery piece. Josef’s wife Amy and I had a few mutual relationships, so we jumped right into conversations about friends, art, Europe, living abroad, Romania (Josef’s birthplace, where I lived for some time) and culture. What I didn’t realize at the time is that Josef had just finished painting a significant mural at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.
The piece is painted on the side of the ATLAS control room situated above the detector at CERN, representing Josef’s take on what the Higgs Boson looks like from an artist’s point of view. Whether you have been following all of the news surrounding the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle or not, Josef’s piece is a feat of its own. Check out this fascinating time-lapse video of Josef creating the piece from start to finish with music by Modeselektor, followed by a recent interview I did with the artist himself.
Ty Clark: How did you come up with the idea for the CERN piece? What was your motivation?
Josef Kristofoletti: I had heard of the project of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I first saw images of the experiment in a National Geographic and was really in awe of what they were trying to do. My motivation was to try and say something artistically that would transcend the art and end up in the science field. The questions they are dealing with at CERN are very fundamental, not just in science but on an intangible human level; where did we come from, why do we exist?
How long did the piece take you?
I worked for about a year and a half from the proposal stages to the finished mural, but the actual painting took only about four months.
Describe your process from idea to the finished project.
I made roughly twenty preparatory drawings and variation on what the walls could look like — this was for determining the structure of the work. The choice of colors, which I used to try to convey a level oh high energy, was improvised. There were some technical obstacles like overcoming many safety regulations, and bureaucratic processes to overcome in order to work at CERN.
What was the impact for your self as an artist and what was the impact for CERN?
For me the project meant realizing a personal dream. I think for CERN, the impact was to have a way of showing excitement about their work that people can approach form a non-scientific angle. Subsequent to my work they have now an artist in residence program that in a small part can help the general public not be afraid of what it going on there. There is an age-old issue of people being afraid of what they don’t understand, and because the Higgs mechanism is very difficult to understand, people may grasp it better through a work of art.
How long have you been painting urban murals?
Who are your influences in the art world?
I’m very interested in architecture, so some of my biggest inspiration comes from that. Specifically for this project I would say Werner Herzog was my biggest influence, and sort of helped me through the most difficult parts. For me he is easily one of the greatest living artists today. I am also very inspired by Blu and his mural animations.
Do you have any other projects or ideas on the horizon?
I’m currently working on a proposal for F1 racing. I had been a fan, but seeing the movie Senna last year drove me over the edge to do something involving the sport.
What kind of impact do you hope to leave through your work?
The biggest impact: for a person or a kid to see it and say ‘Wow!’