in the News

4:10 pm On September 2, 2015

The New York Times: Before the Pope’s Visit, a 180-Foot-Tall Francis Arrives in Midtown


On Tuesday afternoon, Van Hecht-Nielsen had just finished painting the elbow of a 180-foot-tall Pope Frances overlooking Madison Square Garden, when he took a break for lunch.

Standing near Penn Plaza Park, as benches filled up with officer workers and tourists, he took a moment to reflect on his latest job.

It’s not quite a miracle on 34th Street, but it’s close.

For the last eight years, Mr. Hecht-Nielsen, a 41-year-old artist and Catholic convert, has painted the south-facing wall of 494 Eighth Avenue, most recently with ads for Cadillac. But creating possibly the largest hand-painted mural of Francis ever done, a project commissioned by the Diocese of Brooklyn ahead of his visit to New York at the end of September, took on spiritual significance.

“It’s a great blessing,” he said.

Since last Monday, from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mr. Hecht-Nielsen and his team of three painters, armed with hoghair brushes and 80 to 100 gallons of paint, have been working to put flesh on the mural.

The face was the most challenging part, he said, because of the level of detail. But the rest required stamina and care to avoid dehydration and sunburn in 90-degree heat. (They wore wide-brimmed hats.)