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Shades of Warhol

In the end, it took nine hours, 20 gallons of white primer, 31 cans of spray-paint and 35 pairs of hands to pull off a massive mural in the Free Expression Tunnel.

But Ryan Whitley and Matt Hirsch, first-year design students, achieved their goal of making a splash with spray-paint art.

Designstein, an Andy Warhol-inspired mural, features stylized images of Marvin Malecha, dean of the College of Design, along with his advice for new students.


Whitley got the germ of an idea for a mural as he was sitting in a studio critique and imagined painting the entire Free Expression Tunnel white. But what should be painted on the blank canvas?

The idea took shape in his next class, taught by the dean. Whitley brainstormed with Hirsch, and they settled on a portrait of Malecha, using the approach Warhol took with Marilyn Monroe.

A close-up of the Warhol-inspired Designstein mural
First-year design students drew inspiration from Andy Warhol and from their dean, Marvin Malecha.

Alex Backeris, another freshman, created the images from a photo, projecting the design to make stencils for the 42-inch squares.

“Warhol used three colors for each of his portraits, but each of ours used four,” Hirsch explained. The title, Designstein, reflects the portrait’s resemblance to physicist Albert Einstein.


Painting started at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. Students worked in shifts to roll primer over the entire 40-foot tunnel between the Brickyard and the campus bookstore. The artists signed their names and most contributed $10 to $20 for paint.

Near the mural, students stenciled Malecha’s advice for freshmen, quoted in the Brick: “You have before you the opportunity to ask deep questions, to explore as you never have and to redesign whom you are on the basis of what you believe. Be wary of the trivial and the superficial. Seek to find the joy in your life.”

Malecha was touched. “I am truly honored by these students that they have selected me as their subject and made so many kind comments,” he said.


Designstein fell on the heels of another Whitley-Hirsch work prior to the Georgia Tech football game. That mural, which depicted a yellow jacket getting sprayed with pesticide, lasted four days.“We were really surprised,” Hirsch said. “But people here at NC State really do appreciate good art and didn’t want to ruin it right away.”

Hirsch added that every time he’s visited Designstein,  he’s seen someone taking a photo. “That’s really rewarding.”