“The design goal was to create a spectacular visual effect as one enters the Arena,” said renowned mosaic artist Mike Mandel of Watertown, MA. “More importantly, since this was a new basketball arena for the city of Charlotte, I wanted to recognize the many layers of culture that comprise Charlotte’s basketball history: college, textile mill, high school and YMCA.”
Mandel created the two murals by using a mix of 1-by-1-inch unglazed porcelain tiles from American Olean, and opaque glass tiles manufactured by Mridul Mosaics of India.
These specific materials were chosen based on strength and color selection, according to the artist. “Unglazed porcelain tile is durable and is commercially manufactured in a wide variety of color,” he said. “I augment this palette with additional colors of opaque glass tile that I have manufactured in India. In this way, I can use about 100 colors of tile to create a photographic effect.”
Each mural is irregular in size - one measures approximately 27 by 102 feet, while the other is around 16 by 62 feet. For all of Mandel’s projects, the murals are fabricated in Boston and then shipped in sections to the jobsite.
The Trade Street Wall recognizes the many layers of culture that comprise Charlotte’s basketball history. The image derives from two separate photographs, and communicates the player’s expectation, uncertainty and hope. Another aspect of this design is that the three main figures are seen as connected in proximity, and yet diverse in the color and design of their uniforms, and by race and gender.
Furthermore, the Fifth Street Wall shows a contemporary women’s basketball player, UNC Charlotte Sakellie Daniels. According to Mandel, her pose communicates an intensity of focus and determination. The other main element is the imagery of the fans, which depicts their gestural participation in the game.
Researching the imageryTo learn about the history behind Charlotte’s basketball team and players, Mandel interviewed historians, viewed thousands of pictures, and eventually established the design for two walls that speak to this history.
“The history of basketball in the south is also about the history of segregation, not only by race, but by gender,” he explained. “I wanted the imagery to address this. Often, I work with historical archives as source imagery for my mosaic murals. Photographs and artifacts can engage an audience with instances of history and human experience.”
According to the artist, the biggest challenge was in hoping that the architectural plans were going to coincide with the as built condition, so that the mosaics would actually fit the walls. “Another challenge on a project like this is working with the general contractor and making sure that the mosaic work can be coordinated with all the other major projects going on simultaneously,” he said. “This aspect wasn’t always smooth, but somehow, it all worked out.”
Installation workAccording to Dave Martin of D & M Contract Flooring of Knoxville, TN, which served as the tile installer for the project, the installation process took approximately two months with an average of four workers on the site at any given time. Martin explained that the workers utilized a special material on the face of the tile that was peeled off after the installation. Additionally, the installers utilized Kerabond/Keralistic™ mortar from MAPEI, as well as colored grout from Custom Building Products.
“The biggest challenge was dealing with the size, scope and height of the murals,” Martin said. “They are so high up and you are just constantly working up in the air.” Another challenge pertained to putting the entire project together nicely. “We were working with 67 different colors of grout and grouting in some small areas and some much larger areas,” the installer explained. “Making the overall installation look good is all in the grouting.”
“I’ve worked with Dave Marin of D & M Contract Flooring] previously on a project in Knoxville,” said Mandel. “His attention to detail and quality made him the right choice [for this project].”
Mandel began initial research in 2004, and the project was completed in the fall of 2005. “I think everyone was pleased with the result of the project,” the artist said. “They wanted a spectacular effect, and I think I delivered.” The project received a 2006 Spectrum Award.
“I am known for my unique photographic glass and ceramic tile mosaics,” he said. “My mosaic imagery becomes an integrated aspect of a buildings architectural presence. People who see my work from a distance love to come up and touch it in wonder of what they have just experienced. In my work, the viewing distance transitions from photographic illusion to abstraction as one moves closer or farther from the murals. Ideally, the viewing public can experience the work from a variety of long site perspectives, and from just inches away. It’s this level of audience interest and participation that makes my mosaic work unique.”