The Afflicted: Sculptor Christopher Erney, 40, commissioned (with artist Patrick Kirwin) to paint a 1,200-foot mural between Alexandria’s Mirant power plant and the Potomac.
Diagnosis: An incompatible donor. For the past year, Erney has struggled with creating large-scale public art with the support of a reviled benefactor. When Erney signed on to create the George Washington-themed mural outside the coal plant, “I didn’t really know about the whole controversy,” he says. But he quickly became aware of Alexandria’s long-time feud with the plant on the river’s edge. “People in Alexandria who didn’t like the plant said, ‘Oh, [Mirant] has such a crafty, horrible plan to win the public over,’” says Erney. “But here, it was just me painting. And I’ve gone through hell for this.”
Symptoms: Lots of emotional bruising from his fellow Alexandrians. “I had the [then] vice mayor [Andrew H. Macdonald] call me and ask me to stop.” Painting a mural the size of four football fields is enough of a challenge, he says, “and then to get pounded, it can make you feel a bit lost.” Erney admits he experienced a period of doubt about the project. “It’s hard not to let it affect you,” he says.
Treatment: Tune out the noise. “You can’t even let a question creep in as to whether it’s good or not,” says Erney. “Even if it belonged in a museum, we would get yelled at by people in Alexandria who are unreasonable.…Art is supposed to evoke emotion. And this certainly evoked emotion.” Erney says the mural should be finished by the end of 2008.
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