Eric Phagan is the creator of this year's Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art poster. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
Eric Phagan is the creator of this year's Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art poster. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
If you've seen his work and gallery on Main Street, it's easy to determine that this year's Chautauqua poster was created by local artist Eric Phagan.

Phagan used his mixed-media style - acrylic paints and ink on canvas - to depict the old Madison-Milton bridge with downtown Madison in the background. He used the ink to draw lines on the day-time scene to give it the look of a dated photograph.

"So it's a play off the two worlds, now and then, and kind of meeting in the middle," he said.

Each year, the Chautauqua organizers select an artist and agree on a theme and scene. Once the painting is finished, it is printed and available for purchase during the annual poster signing.

This year is the first time Phagan has been selected for the festival poster, though he said he had submitted work in the past.

Phagan and his family operate Gallery 115, at 115 E. Main St., and he also teaches full-time for Madison Consolidated Schools. He joined the school last year as a teacher with its Madison Fine Arts Academy.

The mixed-media creation for the Chautauqua poster happens to be his specialty.

Phagan, originally from Madison, picked up his technique while briefly living in Paris, where he was studying in the spring of 2005.

Like most good ideas, it came to him in a flash and then stuck.

"All the sudden, the lightbulb went on," he said, gesturing above his head.

For the Chautauqua poster, Phagan flipped through still photographs to find the right profile of the bridge before selecting one that he felt showed the depth of the bridge and the features of downtown Madison.

"The one I thought was best was one that brought the bridge into the view but also had the landscape of Madison," he said. "That's just a classic view with the span stretching across the river."

The interesting part of capturing downtown Madison for the backdrop of the bridge is the amount of trees that block many of the rooftops, he said.

"Downtown does have a lot of trees. When you go to paint the town, you see a few rooftops and all these trees," he said.

Phagan said while he worked from a photograph, he wasn't concerned about including every tiny real-life detail.

"Even though I'm working from a photograph, I'm still doing my impression of that image," he said.

In addition to the poster, Phagan also created the original template for the bridge mural on the side of Shooter's restaurant at West and Main streets. The mural was completed this summer by Phagan, along with artists Steve Bickis, Kevin Carlson and Bob Saueressig.

The crew painted the mural by completing a one-foot-by-one-foot section at a time. Phagan said the material used on the mural should make it last 20 to 25 years.

The poster, which is similar to the mural, took a few months to complete, as the board and Phagan worked to find the right subject and then selecting the right color scheme.

The initial suggestion was to feature the Broadway Fountain, but because so many residents have been cataloguing the process of the Madison-Milton bridge project recently, Phagan wanted to feature the old structure that was in the process of being torn down.

"With the bridge being hot right now, 'I thought why not capitalize on that? It's so dear to people,'" he said.

Originally published Sept. 26, 2013, as part of The Madison Courier's annual Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art special section.