On the top floor of Macalester College's Markim Hall, artist Ta-Coumba Aiken plays with shades of gold. In the sunlight, the darkest hue glistens. Just a few feet to the left, it appears nearly black.

The St. Paul college commissioned Aiken to create a mural surrounding the skylights in the hall, home to the Institute for Global Citizenship. On Thursday morning, he painted -- glasses on, shoes off, smile wide.

"I haven’t asked them yet to let me stay overnight," he laughed.

Aiken started this process by asking students, faculty and others to sketch their visions of global citizenship on long canvasses, using oil pastels.

("Oil pastels are like crayons and everybody has an affinity to them," he said. "You can’t say, 'I can’t draw.' Well, just act like you’re three.")

He finds the resulting cluttered canvasses "profound." A ladder that narrows toward the top, leading to a world circled by people. Stars, a kite, an eye set within a cog.

"When I think of global, I think of the wind and the water," he said, dipping his paintbrush. "It doesn’t stop. It goes everywhere."

Aiken and another artist first moved across the curved wall with pencils, swirling along, never lifting the tips. "These lines form a kind of spirit thing, a flowing web of bubbles."

In them, he is beginning to make out a dragon and is playing with the idea that Macalester alum Kofi Annan might be the fire leaving its mouth, at least symbolically.

"The dragon and Kofi Annan just stuck in my head," he said. "I thought, that’s unusual. I had no plan for that." He gave a sly smile. "But I have no plans for anything."

Over the next week, Aiken will add several layers of paint and repetitions of images, in a process he calls "rhythm patterns." His hope is that the mural's message will morph from day to evening, close to far away, person to person.

"Each time someone looks at it, it’s going to tell a different story."


The inspiration

The inspiration