Can you name your favorite mural in Bakersfield?

Wait. Don't answer yet. Because there are new ones being painted in the city's downtown as we speak — and even more still in the conceptual stage.

This popular form of public art is spreading across Bakersfield's business and arts district, and into other areas of the city as well. And for good reason.

"Murals add vitality to downtown," said Richard-Abraham Rugnao, the founder of Idea Hive, a collaborative work space on 19th Street, where an interactive mural has graced the exterior wall for about two years. The painting — a pair of wings — has become a popular photo spot for prom-goers and others looking for a unique background for photos.

"When a city invests in murals, it revitalizes and encourages more creativity," Rugnao said.

About two blocks away, in the alley behind Locale Farm-to-Table Eatery at 1923 18th St., five new murals created by five different artists are planned. The first was finished Friday.

"We are coining it our mural alley," said Locale owner Heather Laganelli. "The murals will be revolving, changing every few months."

People come to Bakersfield for a lot of different reasons, the restrauteur said.

Culture, food, art and music are are some of those reasons, and attractive or intriguing murals add to that mix.

It's hard to find someone who doesn't like murals, although tastes may vary.

I'm a huge fan and supporter of murals," said Brian Boozer, a local drummer and the owner-operator of Aum Studio Productions on 21st Street, which has a music-themed mural on its east wall.

"I love driving around other big cities and looking at all the wall art and murals in various neighborhoods to get a feel for the people and what they're trying to convey," Boozer said. "There's power in public art. Murals have the power to beautify cities and build a sense of community.

"In my opinion, murals are making downtown Bakersfield feel welcoming and walkable. Creativity breeds further creativity and in downtown Bakersfield, creatives are transforming the city."

David Gordon, executive director of the Arts Council of Kern and an artist in his own right, said not only are murals a benefit to the community, they are records of our existence, artifacts of our aspirations.

"Murals are our modern day petroglyphs," Gordon said. "They are writing on walls no different than what cave people did thousands of years ago ...Murals document history, represent time, a people and their doings, what is important, and are often spiritual in nature."

And murals tell stories, Gordon said. They help set the scene for oral story-telling, stories that are passed down from generation to generation.

"They serve as gathering spots, they define neighborhoods, they inspire, they promote civic pride," he said. "Murals cut down on graffiti, and lead to neighborhood improvements campaigns.

"They are difficult in nature, take a special artist who is physically fit, who can pull together a string of ideas and milestones. They are one-page storybooks."

And you don't have to have disposable income to enjoy what they offer. Anyone can afford to see a mural, Gordon said. They are free and usually represent the working class and their accomplishments as they forged through time.

"Murals put artists to work," the artist said, "and that is my greatest charge. To find work for artists."

AUM STUDIO

The mural at 1621 21st St. "was painted by my great friend and colleague local artist, theater guru, and owner of The Ford Theater in Shafter, Larry Starrh," said Aum owner Brian Boozer.

"He's a farmer by day, but a creative at heart and one of the most talented people I know. He offered to paint the mural on my building as a present for Aum Studio's official grand re-opening back in 2015," Boozer said. "We originally had plans to continue adding to it, and we still might."

Several people said they believe murals discourage taggers, and Boozer subscribes to that theory.

"It was a big, blank canvas that was tagged with graffiti fairly frequently," he said of Aum's east wall. "But since the painting of my mural, I haven't seen any graffiti since."

THE KITCHEN

Los Angeles-based street artist David Esfahanian, aka, Bumblebeelovesyou, created a pastoral scene of a young boy leaning back against a wooden barrel strumming a guitar.

Titled "Don't Mind Me," the mural at 1317 20th St. elicits sighs of contentment from some admirers.

But local muralist Tom Zachery remains perturbed that organizers went to Los Angeles to find the artist. Idea Hive founder Rugnao also expressed frustration that an out of towner was commissioned when so many talented artists are hungry for work locally.

"What disturbed me is there was a ribbon-cutting attended by the mayor and city officials," Rugnao said, which seemed to suggest that by their presence the city and the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, which was also involved in the effort, tacitly endorsed the plan to hire non-local artists.

"There's a lot of raw talent right here in Bakersfield," Rugnao said.

FRONT PORCH MUSIC

It definitely has echoes of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.

The visually stunning three-part mural on the east-facing wall at Front Porch Music is a loving tribute to local luthiers, guitar makers who designed and manufactured now-classic guitars right here in Kern County, with names like Mosrite, Gruggett, Standel and Hallmark.

Installed in 2012 by local muralists Sebastian Muralles and Al Mendez, the three images imagine a dreamscape where it seems to be raining guitars.

The mural won the Beautiful Bakersfield award in 2014.

LIBERTY, VETERANS and HONOR

For prolific local muralist Tom Zachery, the two-wall mural in the parking lot at 20th and Eye streets has been a continuing story. It began about 14 years ago, he said, with the creation of Lady Liberty, and continued over a period of several years with images from World War II, Vietnam and more recent conflicts.

"Creating murals is one of the least expensive ways you can improve a place, by painting something interesting," he said.

THE MARK

The restaurant at 19th and H streets became an extensive canvas for the work of Zachery in 2015, when he began painting nostalgic scenes reminiscent of old Hollywood (and earlier) in the alley behind the restaurant and along its H Street wall.

Aside from his own work, Zachery's favorite mural is "the one with the girl's face" on 21st Street that is a tribute to Bakersfield's first responders.

RED WING SHOE BUILDING

The mural Zachery admires is on the southwest corner of 21st Street and Chester Avenue. Painted by artist Alfredo Cuellar in 2002, the wall mural is a tribute to emergency workers -- police, fire, ambulance -- and their service and dedication to the community.

Former Californian photographer Casey Christie's shot-through-the-rain photo of a frightened girl depicted on the mural remains a favorite treatment of this 16-year-old mural. 

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(1) comment

Stephen

"Don't Mind Me," the mural at 1317 20th St. looks like a kid in the 1930s or 1940s. The problem is a kid of that era wouldn't have been wearing flip-flops. Those things didn't become popular until the late 1950s. In those days they were called, "thongs." Now because that term refers to a scant piece of clothing we call them flip-flops. Either way a kid up until the late 1950s would have been barefooted.

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