Supergraphics – Painted Architecture

“Paint is usually seen as a passive ground,” complimenting a room’s furnishings but never overpowering them (Blowing the Lid Off Paint, 2007). Supergraphics however, fulfill the opposite role. Sharing fundamental similarities to a mural (ie. a painting or other work of art executed directly onto a wall), supergraphics differ by being (1) linear and geometric, and (2) by covering more than one architectural plane. For example, the mural on the left, though “linear”, is in reality a rectangular block of colors that is limited to one wall. A supergraphic’s edges would be the lines themselves, and cover more than one flat surface. Above: a supergraphic. Left: not a supergraphic.

The other distinctive feature of supergraphics is that they (3) ignore roadblocks and boundaries. If something is “in its way,” it is likely to just paint itself right on over it. Being liquid and all, supergraphics can cover almost anything; furniture, trim, blinds, doors, and floors are no exceptions. I like to think of a supergraphic like D.W. Read from PBS Kid’s Arthur when she doesn’t wait for her grandfather to get out of the way as she paints his hen house (watch the 10-second clip here).

According to the American architect Cesar Pelli, “colors themselves can become architecture.” Supergraphics are like a sculptural “installation constituting only a depth of a few millimeters of paint” (Blowing the Lid Off Paint, 2007).

Even though supergraphics usually follow a linear path, they can be broken up. Part of the fun of supergraphics is deciding what to avoid and what to paint over. Painting over an architectural feature will deemphasize it, while pausing the supergraphic to allow a feature to exist paint-free will make it stand out. To illustrate this principle, consider the vents below:

Additionally take notice of the next photograph; this supergraphic starts on the ceiling, drips down the trim, includes the venetian blinds, skips the cabinetry, and continues onto the kitchen floor below. The sink basin has also been painted red to repeating the supergraphic’s color scheme. Think: “less is more.”

Though supergraphics are traditionally thought of as paint, the effect can be enhanced with carpet or fabric. These are not as elegant or easy to install, but they are certainly worth the effort:

C. Ray Smith – who coined the term supergraphics in 1967 – had a strict definition which excluded any graphics with identifiable elements (like numbers or letters or things that have eyes). Pictured below: “not” supergraphics. This distinction however, has been argued against by other supergraphic “experts.” (I will be using the word loosely in this blog.)


And as an important side-note, the term “supergraphic” has recently come to mean any LARGE-SCALE graphic. These “supergraphics” are often commercial (think billboards), or are painted outdoors on the sides of buildings. No one should use the term THIS loosely. Beware!

Installing a Supergraphic in Your Home

As you might imagine, painting a supergraphic is barely more difficult than painting a room solid, and much less difficult than installing wallpaper or fabric panels. All you need is painters tape and a roller (which is all the above kit contained). If you are trying to cover surfaces other than drywall, obviously the process becomes more demanding. However, Family Creative Workshop Vol. 19 (1975) has some semi-useful tips and illustrations on how to sketch and measure out a basic supergraphic. Until my copy arrives in the mail, these low-resolution scans from PopuluxeBooks will have to do.

Additional Readings

Karly Hand and Erin Williamson over at have a brilliant post about contemporary and historical artists working with supergraphics. (It even includes a few images from the 1970s interior design book Living Spaces!) For a more thorough understanding of the roots of supergraphics, I would like to recommend reading John McMorrough’s “Blowing the Lid Off Paint” in its entirety (2007). Published within the book Rethinking Representation, this article can be found on google books. And keep reading Supergraphic Strategies for posts about arrow-shaped supergraphics and supergraphic-like headboards!


The citations for the above images, in order of appearance, are as follows: Home Planning and Design (1973), Living for Today (1972), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Living for Today (1972), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Decorating With Confidence (1973), Bloomingdale’s Book of Home Decorating (1973), Home Planning and Design (1973), Living for Today (1972), LIFE Magazine (1968), Decorating Ideas Under $100 (1971), unknown.

The citations for these additional images: Australian Better Homes & Gardens (1979), unknown, Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), unknown, The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement (1970), Living for Today (1972), unknown, Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), unknown, unknown, Living for Today (1972).


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  1. Pingback: South Granville gets a head start on the 2017 summer mural season | sqwabb

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