For well over a century, the center of Lancaster city has been defined by large scale art. The most obvious example of this is the Soldiers & Sailors monument, dedicated in 1874 and now serving as something to speed around when traversing Queen or King streets.
But when you drive up King Street now, there’s another gigantic piece of art to get lost in, courtesy of artist Adam Serrano.
The mural, “Conjuring Giants,” has recently been finished by Serrano on the west-facing side of entertainment venue Tellus360, 24 E. King St. For Serrano, the work is a culmination of dozens of hours of planning, a month of punishing days in the elements and, in some ways, a decade of making art in Lancaster County.
“Conjuring Giants” depicts a Black woman reaching out hopefully for a hand in the distance, with flowers and other shapes surrounding her, delivering a small figure to a higher source of creativity. The stairs inside Tellus now serve as the woman’s arm – as if the building had been waiting for this artwork all along. The piece is 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall, which Serrano measured by hand.
But it almost didn’t happen at all.
Nearly a year ago, Serrano had finished applying art to the Tellus360 rooftop eatery Xulbo Bridge Food Stand when he caught the attention of Tellus owner Joe Devoy. The two went back and forth on concepts. Plans stalled until a chance encounter between Serrano and Devoy on the streets of Lancaster early on in the pandemic in March.
“We were literally just sort of shouting across the street at each other about the mural, and Joe was like, ‘Alright, we’re actually going to do it,’” Serrano recounts over the phone.
From there, Serrano got to work constructing each piece of the mural, block by block, on Photoshop.
One of the hallmarks of Serrano’s style is interconnecting graphic shapes and designs in black and white. It’s a theme that recurs in his work throughout the city, whether it’s the recent Black Lives Matter tribute in the collaborative “Say Their Names” mural or throughout Lancaster businesses such as Basura Thrift Boutique and Blazin’ J’s.
“[His art] catches a lot of people's attention, and now people are starting to recognize that that's totally Adam,” says Jae Santiago, friend and owner of Basura Thrift Boutique. “Especially with my shop being one of the first shops he was experimenting with, now he's obviously perfected the craft.”
“Conjuring Giants,” though, was some new territory for the artist. For starters, Serrano is not fond of heights, but would occasionally have to go up as high as 40 feet in the air on a scissor lift to painstakingly apply each of the nearly 500 11-by-17-inch pieces of paper that make up the completed work.
“When Joe was like, 'I'm going to get you a scissor lift, you cool with that?' I have this mentality where, if I'm not really putting my life in danger, I'm going to say yes,” explains Serrano.
It's “fake it 'till you make it” taken to new heights – literally.
Once the prints were assembled, Serrano would then secure them by brushing each individual piece with an adhesive gel.
And unlike community art projects like “Say Their Names," Serrano wasn’t able to enlist the help of his artistic friends, since he was the only one that could fit in the scissor lift. Nevertheless, friends including Keisha Finnie, Hawa Lassanah and Eleazar Jimenez would stop by, both to marvel at the work in progress and provide positive energy Serrano could harness to continue with the project.
“For me, being afraid of heights and honestly being scared of this project, to have those individuals come and basically lift me up and put me on a pedestal and make me feel unstoppable … I could not have completed this mural unless those individuals were there to support me any way they could,” says Serrano.
Friend Rich Abraham, a Lancaster videographer Serrano has known for a decade, also ended up an indispensable part of the project. Day jobs had kept Abraham from the camera in recent years, but he put the word out to Serrano that he’d like to document the process of the next mural he created -- “Conjuring Giants.”
“He showed me the render on Photoshop before he started, and it’s so impressive how he measured everything, calculated everything,” Abraham says. “There's a lot of math involved. I have no idea how he was able to measure the wall outside of Tellus360, because he was able to get it perfect, top to bottom.”
Before long, Abraham’s work documenting the mural-making process became nearly as indispensable as Serrano’s, and the two put in sometimes eight hours a day, every day, during August. Abraham, who had spent time working for Amazon, was able to teach Serrano how to use the scissor lift.
“Any time he was more than 20 feet in the air, you could see from the bottom how the lift would wobble a little bit, especially on days when it was raining,” recounts Abraham. “I have so much respect for Adam because I've used these machines before, but I was never that high up. Seeing him be able to work, carry all the tools with him and try not to fall … he says he became a man after that.”
Out in the elements
August’s punishing heat waves and occasional downpours introduced added challenges.
“Look, imagine gluing pages to a hot wall, but there's also hot wind causing each of the 400 pages to shrink as you’re applying them,” says Serrano. “Thank God that the sun would only shine directly on the building for around 45 minutes a day”
A typical day for Serrano while working on the project began with a drive from West Reading at around 6 a.m., he says, stopping at the Lancaster Staples to print off pages, locking himself in the old DFB Barber Studio on King Street, and then living off of “tons” of iced coffees from La Dolce Vita and chicken across the street from the work zone at Blazin’ J’s, finally ending with a beer at Tellus around 9 p.m. to toast a long day’s work.
It was then Abraham’s role to edit down hundreds of hours of footage into three short video blogs that would detail a month’s work in roughly four to five minutes of action. For example, a time lapse shot in the first video blog takes up about a minute of time, but in actuality, came from over 24 hours worth of camera and drone footage. The third video, detailing the end of the project, found Abraham and Serrano recreating the end of “The Avengers,” where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes take a break to enjoy some shawarma. In Abraham’s video, the duo finish up at – where else? – Blazin’ J’s for some chicken.
Serrano is now focusing his time on art projects in West Reading, though there are still public art pieces left on the docket in Lancaster, including a Music for Everyone project on the CAP of Lancaster County building. In the future, Serrano says that he is going to continue with a central idea that has propelled him through years of art making and served as a direct inspiration for “Conjuring Giants” itself – Discovering the artists around you and building them up, so that they can lift up the next generation of artists, and so on.
“The biggest message behind Conjuring Giants is that people forget that, with everything happening on the news, you have to pay attention to where you are,” says Serrano. “If you're surrounded by talent and you have the means to help, it's almost your responsibility to help. You want to beautify where you are and prevent senseless violence and drug abuse and things like that, you have to give the people around you hope.
“And if you can provide that hope, it's your responsibility to support, lift, like, share and buy from local artists,” Serrano continues. “‘Conjuring Giants’ is just about looking around you and understanding your space and wanting to protect it and give it life. Find those individuals, seek them out and give them a platform.”