SOUTH PORTLAND — It was shortly before midnight on Friday, April 30, when London-based artist Jaime Gili flew into Portland International Jetport.
For the first time, Gili saw what thousands of others airlines passengers have seen since last November: his artwork on the top of a 35-foot tall oil tank at Sprague Energy in South Portland.
“It was perfect,” the Venezuelan-born artist said.
On Monday morning, the Maine Center for Creativity announced the painting of the second of 16 oil tanks at Sprague as part of the Art All Around project. Eventually, eight tanks will be completely painted with Gili’s art, along with another eight tank tops. When complete, the tank art is expected to be the largest public art project in the world.
The 261,000-square-foot project is expected to use 3,000 gallons of paint and may be visible in satellite images, as well as to the thousands of people who use Interstate 295 and the Portland Jetport.
Monday’s press conference at the South Portland Community Center included elected officials, artists and business owners, all of whom sought to make the tangible connection between the massive art project and its potential impact on Maine’s economy.
A 2004 study commissioned by the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Maine Arts Commission found that more than 63,000 Mainers were employed by the creative economy, including more than 55,000 in technology and 7,500 in arts and culture.
Charles Lawton, a South Portland business owner and member of the center board, said a vibrant creative economy, which includes beer brewers and restaurateurs as well as artists and technological researchers, will be key to the state’s economic recovery.
“I think the only way this state, this city and this economy will thrive is by finding new ways to grow,” he said. “And that comes from the creativity that comes from and is exemplified by this industrial art presentation.”
South Portland Mayor Tom Coward said the city is known for big things, including the largest shopping district in the state, the second largest oil port on the East Coast and a robust semi-conductor business.
“I’m proud to say we are adding another item to that list,” Coward said. “I’m proud of this development because it brands this community as one that gets it.”
Greg Boulos, of the center’s board of directors, said that fundraising has been difficult in the current economy. About $600,000 has been raised towards the $1.2 million project, he said.
“I believe this is no small accomplishment given the economic times,” he said. “We never imagined we would be raising money to complete the tank project during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”
Gili, meanwhile, will be in Portland until Friday, overseeing the painting of Tank 111 by Massachusetts-based Amex Inc.
Amex employee Georgia Flanagan was the one responsible for using global positioning to plot Gili’s abstract design, meant to represent movement and explosions, on the oil tanks.
“I’ve definitely taken it on as my baby,” said Flanagan, who holds an art degree from the University of Maine in Orono. “I post photos to my Facebook page.”
It took about three weeks to complete the first oil tank. The second could take longer, she said, because it’s larger.
If the weather cooperates, Flanagan said a third tank could be painted by the end of the summer.
After viewing the finished tank from the ground, Gili, 37, said he had a bittersweet revelation.
“It was strange to feel I couldn’t do anything any bigger,” he said. “It’s the peak of a career.”
But he’s not closing the door to future opportunities.
“It makes you think bigger,” Gili said.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Georgia Flanagan, left, and London-based artist Jaime Gili, whose artwork she transfered to a 36-foot tall oil tank at Sprague Energy in South Portland. Crews this week will begin painting the second of 16 oil tanks in the Art All Around project.