The artist Josef Kristofoletti painted a mural representing ATLAS' detector

9 March 2009 | By

Josef paints the side of Redux. (Image: Josef Kristofoletti)

Twenty-eight-year-old Josef Kristofoletti is a traveling artist. On the site documenting the work of his group, transitantenna.com, he writes: "I am taking a survey of American mural painting in all of its forms, looking for the best pictures across the land, and painting some along the way."

One of these paintings is an image of the ATLAS detector, a 13 x 7 metre mural on the side of the Redux Contemporary Art Center in South Carolina, entitled "Angel of the Higgs Boson". When people on the street commented on the impressive scale of the painting, Josef would modestly reply, "Well, it's a small drawing of something that is much, much bigger."

The temporary mural was part of an exhibition that ran from October 30th to December 13th, called "The Sun Machine is Coming Down." It featured the work of Josef and one of his companions from art school at Boston University, Matt Phillips. Although the mural will eventually be painted over, Josef's wife, Amy, has recorded the process of making it into a time-lapse video.

While we compare ATLAS to Notre Dame de Paris for scale (at 45 x 25 x 25 metres, it is about half the size of the cathedral) Josef makes a different comparison between the purpose of his mural and those in the cathedrals of Renaissance Italy. In a way, he considers the work of Michelangelo and Raphael outreach for the Catholic Church, trying to explain big ideas in the Bible to a public that couldn't understand its language. "They did this with daunting scale," says Josef.

Josef has been following the progress of the LHC at CERN for the last few years, envisioning the massive experimental halls as cathedrals of science. "There is something about the CERN project: the birth of the Internet, the international teamwork, the scale and energy of building something huge to get at something so small that it is invisible " this deeply resonates with me and seems like a good subject for contemporary art," he explains.

Getting at the invisible is particularly important to the way that Josef sees the purpose of art. The ATLAS detector may be a physical object, but the painting is intended to evoke the sense of excitement about the science we hope to discover, namely the Higgs Boson.

"I decided on doing a more colorful stylized painting of ATLAS because I thought it would look interesting, and it wound make people wonder what it was," says Josef. He was pleased to find that some passers-by recognized his subject, and some engaged him in conversations about the experiment. "It's really captured the popular imagination."