There’s a new mural on an underpass along the Albany County Rail Trail in Bethlehem, N.Y. One that’s difficult to describe. Because it’s ethereal and earthly, alien and familiar, comforting and slightly overwhelming – all in one glance.
Which makes its name – "Cathedral" – pretty much perfect.
The gigantic space beneath the underpass inspired its creator, Fernando Orellana, to choose the moniker. But “Cathedral” fit for reasons beyond this, too.
“There is also an aura to the space, with the surrounding environment being natural but the structure itself serving this very unnatural purpose of cars zooming overhead,” he explained. "There is a constant hum of automobiles to the underpass, almost like prayers being muttered all the time."
"As I painted, I also noticed that people take sanctuary under the bridge when it rains or to take a break from the sun,” Orellana continued. "The trail itself feels like a nave, with the constant stream of pedestrians the procession. It’s like a cathedral to nature and people."
Art on the Rail Trail Orellana commissioned Orellana to paint “Cathedral” in February 2022. He began designing the piece in March and completed it in September.
His design process was much like his teaching – very interdisciplinary. Orellana used technology to bring "Cathedral" to life, relying on computer programs he uses in class to craft the piece digitally first.
“Digital art is a discipline that relies heavily on computers and technology to facilitate art making,” he said. “Which begs the question: How does making a monumental mural that was hand-painted by humans fit into that?”
“The truth is that a lot of murals these days are designed digitally first, working out design, color, scale and strategy via a computer before any physical mark is made.”
Orellana began by studying the highway pillars and modeling them in a virtual space using the same Cinema 4D and 3D graphics program he teaches his students to use. He then used an iPad Pro and a program called Procreate to draw directly on the 3D pillar models.
“The technology made it possible to draw on the virtual 3D pillars from any angle, something that would have been much more challenging in 2D,” Orellana said. “This is the reason the imagery on ‘Cathedral’ seems to go in all sorts of directions, almost like the shapes are weightless, bouncing around in a hot pink void.”
He has enjoyed the process of designing and painting “Cathedral” (the biggest artwork he’s ever made) immensely. And he wishes the same for those who view it.
“I hope the quirky, colorful and ambiguous imagery serves as a portal to happiness, joy and wonder. That, above all else, was the essence of what I trying to capture in ‘Cathedral,’” Orellana said. “A sanctuary in which the public can put aside the stresses and chaos of the modern age, returning to a simple time of their childhood.”
“Certainly, I think the biggest fans of ‘Cathedral’ have been the children, with two of them bringing me cookies one day during production. The children who visit the mural get the message, as they are the native congregation of ‘Cathedral.’"