During college, my artistic heroes were Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. They were the premiere muralists of the 1920s and 1930s in the United States and Mexico. Their way with composition, the use of color, and their subject matter all had a lasting effect on the way I view art. In their subject matter, both artists tried to put in pictorial form the legends and culture of the people of their nations. Rivera and Benton both wanted their art to connect to the concerns and traditions of the average person. I’ve had a few chances to do a few murals, and these were opportunities for me to paint on a large scale and try to emulate my heroes.
My first mural opportunity was in 1995 for the Berryessa Branch of the San Jose Public Library. A really nice librarian named Ruth Phebus gave me the opportunity to do two large canvasses for the Children’s Department. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. Since I had never painted anything that big before, a lot of the process was just trying to figure out how to do things. Who sells 8 ft. by 13 ft. canvases? I called around and found a place in Palo Alto, California called Accent Arts. A very knowleadgable person named Gil was able to give me the canvas and he was a great source of information on how to prime the canvas, how to patch up a hole on the canvas, and other things that I never thought that came up when I was painting such a big canvas.
I painted the mural inside the garage of some friends’ place. It was one of the most enjoyable times of my life, probably just behind my senior prom and my wedding and honeymoon. I had free access to the garage and I spent a lot of time just painting and talking to friends who would help me paint. I remember one time coming to the garage after a rain, and seeing how clean the air was. For some reason, everything seems to glow after a rain. After I finished, there was a reception for the murals and most of my friends attended. It was great.
During the time I did the murals, I was always checking out books by Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton and just staring at the pictures of their murals and trying to emulate them. I would also drive to San Francisco and spend hours just staring at the Coit Tower murals. In my imagination, I would pretend I was this revolutionary muralist. Both Benton and Rivera were strongly progressive: Benton was briefly a Marxist and became a strong New Deal liberal; Rivera was a communist who took part in many protests for the poor and workers.
My next murals were in the school library at Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, California in 1999. I’m not sure how I got that job, other than that someone perhaps saw my murals at the Berryessa library. I would come after my work at 5:30 p.m. and paint on a ladder until probably 9:30 or 10 p.m. I would talk to the janitor who cleaned up at night and she was a very nice lady. Once, she brought her 3 kids, and they helped me mix paints and would hand me different brushes. When I finished the murals, I went to each class and talked to the students about art and murals.
It’s been several years since I last saw those two murals. I hope they’re still standing. Even if the murals have been painted over, it was still a wonderful experience to have painted them. I hope people found some pleasure in looking at the murals. My last mural was the entrance of the Sunnyvale Public Library’s Children’s Room. My nieces and I painted an arch for the entrance of the Children’s Room and I had a nice time painting it with them. We would go to the administration office and paint on the floor. I had children make paper art that I would glue on the mural and use as a collage. My nieces were in charge of putting the collage where they thought best. When it was done I made sure to put their names with mine on the bottom right of the painting.
I’m just an amateur muralist, but I found it being the most enjoyable kind of art to make. Most artwork is rather solitary to make. Murals however, require some help from others, and it offers the opportunity to talk to other people. Benton and Rivera both liked the mural the best of all the arts because the mural was accessible to the average person and it didn’t require a person to go inside a museum to see it. When I made my murals, it was a creative process that I got to collaborate with other people. I hope people do not mind me sharing my murals and sharing my experiences in making them. It was partly a bit of self promotion, but it is also something I’m very proud of.