Stanzas come to life on Broad Street

Mat Tomezsko and volunteers install Tomezsko's mural "14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words" along Broad Street's median on July 19. | GRACE SHALLOW TTN

Mat Tomezsko thinks no block in Philadelphia is like another, similar to the structure of stanzas in a musical composition.

Tomezsko, who graduated from Temple in 2009 with a degree in Studio Arts, studied symphonies by nineteenth century composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky while painting the mural “14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words,” which was unveiled on Tues. July 19.

“14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words” was created in correlation with the Democratic National Convention’s arrival in Philadelphia. The project is a collaboration between the Mural Arts Program, the 2016 DNC Host Committee and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society.

Jordan Schwartz, the director of external affairs for the 2016 DNC Host Committee, said the mural is a way to “bring Broad Street to life” and engage with multiple neighborhoods.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to make some projects happen, to drive resources toward physical improvements that will make the city look and feel more vibrant,” Schwartz said. “We also have a goal at the Host Committee to make a positive impact locally in a way that’s lasting for neighbors and residents.”

The piece is a mile long, stretching from City Hall to Washington Avenue. The installation of the mural took multiple nights.

“Unlike a normal painting which you really see all at one time, time itself becomes a really large factor with this piece,” Tomezsko said. “I started thinking about it as a musical composition because it’s something that you perceive through time and move through.”

All 14 blocks of the mural adhere to Tomezsko’s theme of moving through time, but exist as their own separate spaces with a variation in form. Some are slow while others are upbeat, he said.

To convey changing tempos, Tomezsko used varying colors in his paintings, a strength Marilyn Holsing, a professor of painting in Tyler School of Art, remembers in his undergraduate work.

“I’ve been teaching for four decades and I certainly don’t remember the work of every student I’ve ever had,” Holsing said. “I remember Mat and his work very distinctly because his use of color was very bold and he was very conversational with the language of color.”

While other abstract painters want to force people to rethink their perception of the world, Tomezsko wants his work to challenge viewers to rethink language and words they already feel familiar with.

“So much of our experience is based in language,” Tomezsko said. “It’s how we relate to one another.”

The mural incorporates words from Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher’s collection “Monk Eats an Afro,” which chronicles her evolution from daughter to mother.

According to Tomezsko, her words hover between “meaning and non-meaning” in the mural.

“I’m not just reproducing one of her poems,” he said. “I’m taking those words and mixing them together, so there’s a sprinkling of words that make sense by association but you can’t just read them in a straightforward way.”

He said this type of narrative allows people to “come to their own conclusion” when they see the median.

As a fellow admirer of language, Wisher is appreciative of Tomezsko’s ability to amalgamate two mediums of art.

“I think that ability to be critically thoughtful, to invite abstraction and ambiguity and to embrace the mystery of something, but not immediately understanding it is a key to a lot of art and the power of it,” she said.

In a city of varying cultures and backgrounds, Tomezsko’s mural is a reflection of the melting pot, not the individual.

“It’s a symbol of mutual respect and an acknowledgement of how many kinds of people there are and how it all works together,” he said.

Tomezsko wants the mural’s message to reach politicians attending the DNC after what he calls “an ugly season for politics” especially in light of recent violence in Orlando, Dallas and more.

“There are lots of people who want to embrace one another,” Tomezsko said. “This piece is about that. It’s about the power of diversity and acceptance. They just aren’t as loud.”

Grace Shallow can be reached at

Grace Shallow
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