Murals seemed a preordained venue for Ives’s talents. They offered dramatic scale for what was essentially his personal work. Their abstract nature was a comfortable fit for banks, schools, theaters, and most public spaces.
In the1950s the Boston architect William Riseman took note of Ives’s talents, and they began a working relationship that continued through the 1960s.
Ives and Riseman created a comprehensive design program for three fast food restaurants in Boston. Ives’s commission included the design of all decor, logos, menus and walls.
Their first duet was in 1954 for the Peter Pan–Amy Joy coffee house. Here, Ives created perhaps his first mural using circles in six bright colors laid onto a grid. It was a twenty-foot blast of color that reflected the joy promised. Letter fragments were yet to come.
The second Riseman-Ives venture was Ken’s, a restaurant in Boston’s prestigious Copley Square. The symbol created by Ives for Ken’s was a firmly condensed letter “K.” The single letter was black, outlined in white on an ochre ground. It filled a tall vertical panel of at least eight feet, standing in front of the entrance marquis. This was repeated on a back wall panel rising from the floor to the twenty-foot ceiling. Atop the marquis were the four letters “KENS” in similar style, rendered in neon. For menus and floor-to-ceiling wall patterns, Ives repeated the “K” with letters back-to-back, creating a lively symbol.
In the early 1960s Paul Rudolph, head of Yale’s Architecture Department
commissioned Ives to produce his first mural for a non-commercial, art-related space, Yale’s Art and Architecture Building. It is now a revered work in an iconic building.
William Riseman was also the architect for an early cinema complex in Orange, Connecticut. Ives was again asked to produce murals for an expansive lobby in need of humanizing elements. Ives’s solution was a series of four free-standing fifteen-foot panels, each with images on both sides. These nine panels were covered by Ives’s brightly colored letter fragments.
Donald Rugoff, owner of a small chain of Cinema Art theaters invited a few noted artists to show their work in his most prestigious theater. Ives contributed two fine works for the Cinema 3 lobby. One was a nine foot bas-relief on the wall leading into the hall. A second work was a thirty inch square mirrored box set into the wall adjacent to ticket sales. This enigmatic box, with its reflections and converging geometrics, manages to deconstruct and reconfigure the space within.
Paul Rudolph commissioned works by several Yale artists to complement his 1963 design of the Art & Architecture Building (now Rudolph Hall) for Yale. This Norman Ives mural covered the third-floor exterior wall of the dean’s office. It is one of Ives’s earliest mural designs.
Raw canvas was stretched over a wooden frame faced with masonite. A similar roll of raw canvas was painted matte dark gray. Letter fragments were cut from this and glued to the unbleached raw canvas. The original study does not survive. The facsimile to the right is made from a series of photographs of the mural. Panels measure 28.5 inches vertically by 29 inches horizontally, totaling 12 x 19 feet.