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Paint meets tank: Work begins on Art All Around project in South Portland

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Paint meets tank: Work begins on Art All Around project in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — On a cold and gray Thursday afternoon, the first swaths of color were ceremoniously applied to one of 16 Portland Harbor oil storage tanks that will be decorated as part of an international Art All Around competition.

A crowd of about 20 supporters watched the opening ceremony at Sprague Energy, hosted by the Maine Center for Creativity, the non-profit group spearheading the project as a way to promote and foster Maine's creative economy. 

Painters prepared the tanks early last week by pressure washing the exteriors, adding a sealant and laying down an azure base color. On Thursday, Oct. 15, MCC Executive Director Jean Maginnis climbed aboard a cherry-picker with Greg Boulos, president of the MCC Board of Directors. Once lifted into position, each took a turn splashing some tan paint within a finely marked stencil. 

After the ceremonious paint was applied, Boulos removed the foil from a bottle of champagne and shot the cork high into the sky. Maginnis raised the bottle, as though she would drain it all.

The Oct. 15 event was a long time coming – the project has taken four years to plan. MCC board member David Swardlick said that, despite the enormity of the project, which included an international call for art that drew more than 500 submissions and a $1.2 million capital campaign, he never doubted the day would come that paint would actually applied to the tanks. 

"It's the power of commitment and staying focused on a goal," Swardlick said. "It's easy to get dissuaded from doing big things." 

The project will paint eight oil tanks in their entirety and the tops of another eight tanks. Once all 16 tanks are painted, using an estimated 3,000 gallons of paint, they will be visible from satellites and via Google Earth, Swardlick said, making the 261,000-square-foot artwork the largest permanent art display in the world.

"This will be a high-visibility project," he said. "It's a symbol of the generations of creativity that has abounded in Maine."

Georgia Flanagan of Amex, a Massachusetts-based painting company with offices in Portland, was responsible for translating the art work of Jaime Gili, a Venezuela-born artist living in London who was not at the event, onto the oil tank. Amex used a combination of computer programs, global positioning systems and creative problem solving with the artist.

"(Gili) was pretty flexible. He understands the scope of the project," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said she spent about 30 hours transferring Gili's abstract design of sharp, jagged angles, meant to represent explosions and movement, onto the 36-foot tall oil tank.  

Although she has previously worked on murals, Flanagan said she has never worked on a creative project of this magnitude. Prior to the oil tank project, her largest mural was placed on the 20-by-30 wall of a garage. 

For Flanagan, who holds an art degree from the University of Maine, the project is a chance to get back to those roots.

"It's exciting for me," she said. "It feels like my own art at this point."

It is expected to take about a month to complete the first oil tank and three years to complete the project. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net