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A Modern Michelangelo

Ryan DuVal, famed for painting a version of the Sistine Chapel on his dorm room ceiling, left muralism to share Buddhist teachings.

By Daniel Fernandez
May 29, 2019
Online Exclusives

ryan duval in bobb-mcculloch dorm where he painted sistine chapel

In this 1998 photo, Ryan DuVal poses beneath his masterpiece, a rendition of the Sistine Chapel, in his Bobb-McCulloch Hall dorm room. © 1998, Chicago Sun-Times/Reprinted with permission

Twenty years ago, Ryan DuVal ’02 moved into his room in Bobb-McCulloch Hall a few days early. Inspired by a trip to Italy, he decided to paint three scenes from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in his dorm room — and inadvertently became a national sensation. The Chicago Sun-Times declared DuVal a “Modern Michelangelo,” and David Letterman offered him a spot on his show after DuVal won a case in federal court to keep his mural up for the duration of the year after Northwestern tried to remove it.

“It was definitely an exciting time when it happened, although, despite how it appeared, I really wasn’t trying to make a fuss,” DuVal explains. He just wanted “to liven up our room through the dreary Chicago winter.”

Ryan DuVal portrait

Ryan DuVal

After graduating in 2002, DuVal moved to Northern California to pursue art. He apprenticed with master muralist John Pugh, painted trompe l’oeil style works for a variety of audiences and became involved in Buddhist meditation, an interest that grew from a study abroad program in Bodh Gaya, India, during his time at Northwestern.

After painting for a few more years, DuVal decided to make another change, embarking on a three-year Buddhist meditation retreat to a monastery in southern France, where he had the chance to paint a mural honoring a visit made by the Dalai Lama. Today he lives in Redwood City, Calif., and works on graphic design and database development for Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centers.

Murals have taken a back seat, DuVal says, “but I still use the skills I picked up during my time at Northwestern. Of my majors in music, computer science and religion, I haven’t done much with music, but computer science, religion and art have all continued to be close aspects of my life ever since.”

To learn more about DuVal, read our past coverage here.



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