Tacoma has two brand new murals, and they’re about as different as you can get. One’s a quirky, bubbly heron at the Proctor shops, the other’s a groovy urban slash of graffiti-style lettering over a stained-glass-window effect on the back of the Rialto. But both achieve the same thing: making an ugly wall beautiful and discouraging other, less attractive, kinds of wall-painting.
The heron at Proctor is painted by Alexis St. John, and is actually the completion of her existing salmon mural on the west wall of Radio Shack (North 26th and Proctor Streets). St. John has a child-like, joyful style that fits the bubbly surface of the wall really well: The fish swims big and bold through a sky-blue stream, and now a heron stands by, wide-eyed and uncertain whether he’s big enough to take the salmon on. Thanks to Dr. Thomas Murphy for sponsoring this. What with the heron/fish and the recent Farmers’ Market Art Nouveau mural by Rachael Dotson (north wall of Teaching Toys at North 27th Street), Proctor is looking better and better.
Meanwhile down at the Rialto Theater, the Fab-5 crew (local hip hop youth mentors) have just finished a mural that does wonders for the dingy, non-historic backside of this Rococo-style theater. Controversial in the planning stages, the mural has undergone a few design changes. The overall color tone has morphed from aqua-green to golden earth-tone, shining in abstract geometrics like a stained-glass window at the top of the sort-of-triangular wall, while the graffiti-style faux-lettering now flows across it with grace rather than aggression. Sponsored by Urban Grace with a City of Tacoma neighborhood grant, the mural both discourages taggers and expresses the funky arts scene that’s building up at Urban Grace across the road.
And here’s a heads-up: Look out for more murals, especially on the south and east sides. Like the Rialto mural, they’re part of a Safe and Clean Streets initiative by the City of Tacoma. Mural training sessions teach artists to paint walls in collaboration with neighborhoods that want murals to brighten their cityscapes. The first one’s done already, on the restroom walls at the Portland Avenue Community Center, where 19 trainee artists learned how to paint murals under the direction of five experienced ones. Now, the artists are dividing into teams to paint five more murals around town. Check out my story in September for more details.