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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 9.6.07



Murals, Murals, Everywhere!

And not a wall left untouched

Story & photos by Chuck Adams

Murals: They're big! They're pictures! They're BIG PICTURES! And Eugene certainly has a hankering for them. We've got murals on the side of tattoo parlors, music shops, auto parts stores and theater buildings; in alleyways; inside post offices, heck, even along the "temporary" panels meant to block Aster's Hole.

As public art, murals can be both a form of community outreach and tasteful marketing. Take, for example, the mountain scene painted as a backdrop for SUVs at the Hyundai dealership on 7th Ave. and Washington St. Grimace all you want at the thought of SUVs in Oregon's backcountry, but the fact is the mural probably paid artist Dan Hitchcock's bills for at least a few months. Or take the 22nd and Garfield Intersection Mural Project, a product of years of group collaboration and fundraising, painted entirely in one day by devout mural (and neighborhood) enthusiasts. The intersection may be sleepy and near a dead-end street, but the mural will live on in tribute to the spirit of community. This is Eugene's strength. In the context of this weekend's 25th Eugene Celebration, we surveyed as many of Eugene's public murals as we could in one day and took stock of the state of murals in the "Greatest City for the Arts and Outdoors."

 

The String Shop at Railroad Ave. and Polk St.

Here's a perfect example of how best to marry a mural to the building's predominant use — in this case, a shop having everything to do with string instruments. The mural, painted by Amanda Acker and Lauren Kinney, features a variety of violins, cellos and basses hung on a line, being led to the great beyond, where a larger than life string instrument awaits their arrival. It's all very playful and whimsical with a restricted color palette of blues, oranges, reds, yellows, blacks and whites.

Rest EZ Mattress Factory at W. 7th Ave. and Fillmore St.

This one I stumbled across by accident. But the Japanese woodblock print style of this mural was intriguing enough to warrant a quick stop. I don't know what it all has to do with mattresses, but perhaps the mural has outlasted the string of businesses housed within. Either way, the work stands out along this gray, busy, congested area.

Washington-Jefferson Park

Mmmm … concrete makes a delicious mural surface. Well, anything is usually better than bare concrete. This park under the freeway has copious concrete and ample opportunities for public displays of art expression. The merry-go-round carnival scene painted around the concrete pillars adds a fun atmosphere near the playground. Opposite this scene is the tongue-in-cheek allure of stage curtains pulling back, revealing … uh, the dark pit of an overpass underside. Charming.

The Jawbreaker Building at 4th Ave. and Monroe St.

This one just screams "Whiteaker District!" It has all the things that make up a dystopic utopia. Nude and semi-nude tribal folk sitting about smoking a pipe. Terraced gardening. A communal cauldron cooking over an open fire. People reading Tarot cards while their forests are clearcut. A woman overcoming breast cancer. The sun rising over a denuded hillside. Originally painted in the early '90s by muralist Kari Johnson, and then repainted after the activist standoff at Warner Creek, the background has morphed from a lush forest to a clearcut hill with a logging operation in the foreground. Johnson says the building's new renters were threatening to remove the mural but the issue has been resolved, for now. That would have been a huge loss for the greater Eugene mural landscape in general and the Whiteaker community in particular.

Prince Pückler's at 19th Ave. and Agate St.

The backside of this ice cream shop faces a children's park. So naturally the mural features every kid's favorite characters from the Maurice Sendak storybook, Where the Wild Things Are. Unfortunately, shrubbery and a chain-link fence mar an otherwise delightful mural. Or, wait, maybe the shrubbery and fence add to the mystique of the "wild things" as they appear to inhabit a realm off limits to any kid not willing to crawl under the bushes for a sneak peek at the wild side.

Former site of Le Petit Gourmet at 25th Ave. and Willamette St.

This mural is the only one featured here that was painted entirely with spray paint. And it dazzles. Glanced at from the furious ratrace along Willamette, its delightful bakery scene of kid-like bakers making cookies, muffins, cakes and other delights has been known to make many a mouth water (and several people to slow the heck down) for a possible visit to Metropol, conveniently located across the street.

5th St. Public Market

OK, it's an improvement over the last mural in this space, but still, this one gives me the creeps. Maybe it's the migratory birds in rigid fighter jet formation. Or the goateed guy smiling through the bushes. Or the kid with elvish ears and an extremely long tongue licking his ice cream cone. Or the faces that randomly appear like the spirits of satisfied customers. Or the images that depict the current 5th St. Public Market plaza. This is a montage of schizophrenic proportions.

Goodwill at River Rd. and Hilliard St.

Another utopian mural, this one depicting a (modest) vision for the River Road area, including dense urban living, light rail system, a local grocery store, a community center, a neighborhood bakery and café — all of it spelled out in big letters at the top (which is entirely unnecessary). A big plus is muralist Jan Spencer's use of the building's concrete support columns as neoclassical columnades. And the people pictured certainly appear nonchalant and secure in their community.

Big Picture Building at 12th Ave. and High St.

Ask most people around town which mural is their favorite, and it invariably boils down to this Italian street scene, painted in film noir grayscale by Jim Evangelista of Cottage Grove. What most people don't realize is that the mural is a reproduction of an actual painting. But no matter the source material, this is truly a heavyweight. The perspective draws the viewer into the mural, up the narrow street and behind the hunched shoulders of an Italian fellow as he ambles up the nearly deserted street. His double approaches from the distance and the questions arise: Will they greet? Will they ignore each other? What's going to happen? The striking use of grayscale both reflects the common color of a Eugene sky and is a direct challenge to multi-hued murals hell bent on jamming the colors of the rainbow into the work. In this mural, good composition trumps color.

Knecht's Auto Parts at W. 11th Ave. and City View St.

Stretching over the side and entire back wall of this auto parts store is a mural that will both affect and reflect its surroundings of automobile-related shops and an animal hospital. Alison McNair (pictured right) has been at work on this mural off and on since July, and she still has a lot of work to do. Thankfully, she has a rotating supply of painters willing to volunteer; many of them mere passers-by. One couple wandered over while getting their tires rotated at Les Schwab and ended up spending a week helping out, says McNair. A woman in her nineties painted a series of impressionistic flowers along the back wall. In this way, McNair says, the finished mural will truly be a collaborative community effort.

McNair, who was recently awarded a $1,500 matching grant from the Lane Arts Council to complete the mural, says she is designing the work with two dominating factors: wheels and animals. Vehicles run along the side wall. Along the back wall are a series of panels, one of which is a memorial to animals that have passed away. Each animal represented was at one point someone's dear pet. Further down the wall, reality gives way to an abstract, spiritual realm where the spirit of the animals live on. Look for the mural to be complete in the coming months. If you have a spare hour or two, stop by and help McNair finish it.

Sundance Natural Foods at 24th Ave. and Hilyard St.

A lot of people are probably wondering why Sundance has covered up the mural on the west side of their grocery. This big, thick white board? That's extra insulation to keep the concrete wall from overheating and causing the freezers inside to short circuit, says a source at Sundance. So the earlier mural is lost to the machinations of running a business, but a new one will soon take its place. The grocery is currently taking proposals for this big, blank white space on the insulation board. Got some good ideas? Share 'em with Gavin McComas.

In all, Eugene has a knack for grassroots mural projects. Springfield has its own city-managed and maintained mural program, and Cottage Grove certainly has plenty of murals, but Eugene residents do it all by themselves. Sweat, tears, cash and lots and lots of paint. And, if this article puts you in the mood to get out there and paint a surface, then you'll have a chance at a community mural project at noon Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Salvation Army Community Center on West 7th Ave. As they say, "Dress to get messy."

For more mural stats, imagery and a chance to declare your love (or hate) for a mural in Eugene, see blogs.eugeneweekly.com