‘Summer of Color’ Brings Walls of Street Art to the Laguna Arts District

Mural by Brett Crawford. Photo by Lisa Black

The animals charge northward across the west-facing wall of the Fuse Building: horse, goose, snake, wolf and tiger. The creatures have a transparency, as if they were projected, and the guide marks used in the mural’s execution are clearly visible. The words Creatio Continua are emblazoned behind the beasts, assuring us creation/creativity is indestructible, while the soft colors and see-through qualities suggest otherwise: Best take care, as it could all disappear. The entirety of Faith XLVII’s work spills off the confines of the building, as if the animal traces were captured in a frantic second as the spirit menagerie ran by.

In reality, it took several days up and down an orange scaffold for the South African, who recently moved to LA, to finish. “She’s a phenomenon, a force of nature,” says “Summer of Color” co-curator Torrey Cook. “Her work seems delicate in its touch, but her strength is undeniable. Her voice . . . reaches right down to touch your core as a human being.”

Mural by Okuda. Photo by Lisa Black

Cook and co-curator Ben Rubin of Elephants and Castles fine-art printing, are assembling diverse artists to cover the Laguna Arts District. The town’s Arts Commission granted permission to “Summer of Color” with a swift “yes,” likely because Mo Honarkar now owns all the buildings’ walls. Along with his daughter Hasty and their partners in Laguna Creative Ventures, they hope to “maintain and protect Laguna’s creative roots and vibrant culture, [and are] committed to its artistic heritage and want to see it thrive again.”

Using gobsmacking color, Spanish artist Okuda transformed the entryway and front of the Art-A-Fair with extreme whimsy—you may never feel blah about polka dots, rays, stripes, kaleidoscopes, squiggles, 3-D prisms or primary-color blocks again. The patterns interact with the architectural playfulness of the facade. But the internationally recognized artist’s most bewitching work here is his 153-feet-by-12-feet mural on the Art-A-Fair’s west side. It’s so long you have to crunch your way back through a gravel parking lot to take it all in. In Palace of Dreams, a nude female in deep-hued triangles and prisms reclines in a field of geometric vibrancy, attended by squat birds. One has a red head with stars spangling its blue wings; another hints at the California Republic flag.

Okuda, who started off painting old factories and lost railways in the mid-1990s, instills an optimism in me. Maybe the deepening precariousness of our country will right itself before, you know, it’s too late? Cook, who ran Artists Republic gallery for years, feels a similar way in response to Faith’s distinct style. “In a world that is so unsettled, and it’s sometimes hard to know which way to go or what to do or say, to have someone like Faith as a beacon—well, I just feel lucky.”

Mural by FaithXLVII. Photo by Josh Gunter.

Okuda and Faith are longtime friends in the apparently small world of in-demand global street art, often putting each other up during their travels. For “Summer of Color,” all the artists stay at the live/work spaces in [seven degrees], an event center in the northernmost building in the district, closest to the Sawdust Festival.

Younger mural-makers include Beau Stanton, who grew up in Laguna and graduated from Laguna College of Art + Design (LCAD). While wait-listed for grad school in New York, he ended up assistant to culture-jamming pioneer Ron English, whose works include the unmistakable Marlboro-red packaging sporting only the word breathe. Stanton’s mural is exquisitely detailed in house and spray paint. Lady Liberty’s face emerges from a sea of decorative swirls, a tall ship balanced on her head. The nautical work wraps around the Laguna Beer Co. tasting room in the “Hive Center,” two mirrored strips of businesses including LCAD Gallery 805 and eateries.

James Thistlewaite, another LCAD grad, has been in residence for months. His meticulous vertical image can be found behind the Hive. Created in a photorealist style with only General’s Charcoal Pencils—which, he says, broke all the time—Thistlewaite’s mural is the largest hand-drawn art piece in the country.

“What’s wonderful about being here so long” Thistlewaite says, “is I get to meet all the artists . . . and work out what they’ve loved about the experience. This is my first mural.” What? “I’m the runt of this amazing show of artists,” he confirms.

Mural by James Thistlewaite. Photo by Lisa Black

It may be his first solo, but Thistlewaite assisted on the notorious Charming, the first street-art mural in Laguna, according to the curators. The young artist was earning some cash as a barista before starting LCAD when he met Ben Eine, who had moved to Laguna after marrying an American. “Ben was one of the pioneers of graffiti in the U.K.,” says Rubin. “He was the master printer for Banksy, was instrumental in showing Banksy how to do his stencil work.” The two Bens ran Elephants and Castles together.

Charming was inadvertently painted over when the building’s ownership changed. By the time the situation was rectified, Eine’s visa had been revoked because of his graffiti convictions. “The flip side of all this was,” Rubin says, savoring the irony, “when all that was going on, David Cameron, the British prime minister, was presenting the Obamas with a Ben Eine painting as a state gift.”

Near Thistlewaite’s piece, Bear Named Pa’u by Chad Hasegawa doesn’t come into focus at first glance, but the black and gray attacks of paint in wide-brushed application soon coalesce into a head-and-shoulders portrait of a bear. The eyes of an Asian woman in red still stared through construction equipment parked in front of San Clemente-based Brett Crawford’s contribution last week at First Thursdays art walk, as they did when I went at midday.

Few people were looking at murals at the art walk. Maybe a map or mural tracker is needed? Hopefully, hours after I left, the rowdy crowd imbibing at Laguna Beer Co. had spread out over the district, stumbling from mural to mural.

Next up are San Francisco’s Casey O’Connell’s piece and a collaboration called The Shrine by Kelly Castillo and Sara Haase. I don’t know the exact locations, but I’m looking forward to the search, ale in hand.

Summer of Color” at Laguna Arts District, between 891 and 777 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach. Instagram: @lagunawalls.

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