You Gotta See This is a series recommending art around Austin that you just shouldn’t miss.
What: American National Bank mural
Artist: Seymour Fogel
Location: McGarrah Jessee building (121 W. Sixth St.)
Austin is not home to many midcentury modern shrines, but this large-scale abstract mural located in a former bank building downtown is one you gotta see.
The artist was Seymour Fogel, who taught at the University of Texas from 1946 to 1959, and whose singular house/studio called Southwind is a historical landmark in South Austin. Fogel made his name creating social realist murals in the manner of mentor Diego Rivera during the early 20th century, but he shifted to what has been called Texas modernism in Austin.
The 1954 American National Bank Building — built on the former site of the city’s first H-E-B supermarket on West Sixth Street — was a corporate masterpiece of its time. Designed by the local architectural firm Kuehne, Brooks and Barr, with interiors by the famed Florence Knoll, it was a knockout. It also housed the first escalators in town. The building later languished as the offices of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, then came roaring back in this century as the headquarters of McGarrah Jessee, a full-service brand development company.
Back to the restored mural, which commands a large, central room reached by the aforementioned escalator. Approximately 30 feet by 10 feet and painted on wire-supported stucco using ethyl silicate, it is dominated by strong diagonal boundaries that meet almost like sailboats in a predominately blue field. Several intense colors fill in smaller geometric patterns that draw the eye this way and that. Although it was probably meant to fade to the background of the bank lobby in the 1950s, it still actively engages the viewer, who can get lost while meditating on its alternating colors and zigzagging pathways.
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