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|Thinkers Coffeehouse Mural -detail 6
This is a great picture because it is a very close reproduction of the atmospheric mood of mural and its subtle modelling of light. The main attention grabber as patrons entered the coffee shop was the portrait of Enrico Caruso, the greatest tenor of his generation (and probably ours). He is almost life-size and his gaze captures you completely (many visitors confused him with the infamous gangster Al Capone). Also notice the stares of the figures surrounding him. The effect on the viewer is simply amazing.
When asked about what he thought was the best element of the mural John quickly stated -"The composition; it should never bore you." He further explained: -"The grouping of the figures, the positions of the bodies, their eyes, the gestures... this is the drama that tells the stories of all these character. You can actually move from one group to the next and discover something new every time."
John's experience in the theatre has been a major influence in is his painting and the Thinkers Coffeehouse mural is John's foremost expression as a master of the "theatrical painting". He skillfully crafted the composition as a 'mise en scène', an art that John had already perfected in his theatrical work.
A mise en scène is an expression used in the theatre and film worlds to describe the design aspects of a production. Everything that appears before the viewer -props, actors, sets, costumes, and lighting, is an arrangement used by the director wishing to give an impression of characters or situations without vocally articulating it. While it must look natural, typically it does not represent a realistic setting but a visual style.
The fate of the Thinkers Coffeehouse Mural
Since the unveiling, the Thinkers Coffeehouse Mural was a smash with the public. People came as far as Cincinnati (a city at the opposite end of the state) to see the mural. Several art classes had gatherings at the coffeehouse to enjoy and study the work. Being located in the theatre district meant that touring companies coming to Cleveland would invariably stop in for coffee and discover the painting.
Encouraged by the success of the piece, Chuck Diamond contracted John to work on another extension to the mural. A new gallery of celebrities would be added on top of the mural as if looking over a balcony. John went as far at to paint the new mural addition in grey tones (see the following series of images in the mural page). However, the work was never completed.
Several factors contributed to the cancellation of the project. First was the Cleveland economy. While Playhouse Square was undergoing a revival, its downtown area was loosing residents and business. This in turn meant that the coffeehouse was not generating the projected revenue. Also, Mr. Chuck Diamond -the heart of the project, who had suffered from polio all his life, realised that the pressures of business had taken a toll on his health. He could no longer effectively manage the enterprise.
New owners took over but they did not honour the former agreement concerning the mural. Finally, after negotiations went nowhere, John exercised a contractual clause of owning the artwork until every cent was paid. So after two years of being on display, John removed the mural panels from the coffee shop and put them in storage. The Thinkers coffee house went out of business the following month.
A decade later John exhibited the mural at the Beachwood Arts Center in a group show of Hispanic artists aimed to coincide with the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. On his column, Steven Litt, art critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: -"John Rivera-Resto, a Cleveland native who grew up in Puerto Rico, almost steals the show... His dedication is admirable."
We can only imagine what the entire Thinkers Mural would have looked like if business had not ruled over art. The people of the city of Cleveland lost more than just a painting; they lost a legacy. Perhaps the most fitting reminder about John's artistic genius and the Thinkers Coffeeshop Mural was the one that appeared on the Cleveland Free Times penned by art critic Douglas Max Utter:
-"The result is a tour-de-force. A masterpiece! It's probably safe to say that no one has tried or thought to achieve the sheer, rather maniacal Renaissance splendor... There's definitely nothing like it this side of Firenze."
See the next series of images to learn more about the incomplete addition to the Thinkers Mural -the mural that never was.