Early drew inspiration for the design from the surrounding neighborhood, and key moments in Tempe’s history. “I talked with neighbors about what makes their community special,” Early said. “Then I talked to people at the Tempe History Museum, and I tried to make the mural almost a timeline.”
The mural covers two walls joined at a corner near the railroad tracks on College Avenue. The walls are more than eight feet tall, with a combined length of nearly 400 feet. The shorter wall, which runs parallel with College Avenue, depicts contemporary Tempe – complete with cyclist and skateboarder.
The longer portion of the mural, which parallels the railroad tracks, features several vignettes of Tempe’s past. It shows people of color picking cotton and doing brickwork. It’s got Tempe landmarks like “A” Mountain and the Hayden Flour Mill. And it features an assortment of animals and plants, including a rooster and saguaro cactus.
“We’re thrilled to have it in our public-art collection,” said Rebecca Blume Rothman, director of Tempe Public Art. “We’re super-excited to have this near the park, where it adds a whole new dimension to the space.”
In recent years, he’s created temporary public art along Main Street in Mesa, and exhibited his work at venues including Practical Art, and The Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts.
This is Early’s first mural for Tempe Public Art.
Although Tempe has a robust public-art program, this is only the second mural the city has commissioned. The first was Laura Lee’s Don’t Wake the Dreamer, painted at Jaycee Park in 2015.
It remains to be seen whether Tempe Public Art will commission more of these large-scale works.
“There are no current plans for another wall mural at this time, but that doesn’t mean there never will be," Rothman said.
Tempe put out the call for art in early 2015, expecting the chosen artist would paint the piece between April and June for a budget of up to $25,000. Early responded to the call, and got invited to show his proposal to a group of community members.
“It was really clear, really fast, that they were proud of their neighborhood,” Early said. “I tried to show a visual history of the neighborhood changing over time, through things like farming and water.”
He started painting in early December 2017, but had to stop for eight weeks after breaking his arm in mid-December. Early resumed painting in mid-February, and finished the mural on Wednesday, April 25.
Early figures he painted 20 to 40 hours a week, for 12 weeks. Do the math, and it’s clear that just the painting process took at least 240 hours. “I used about 15 gallons just for the base coat, and probably 200 paint cans,” he said. The base color is green, which reflects the prevalence of trees and plants in that part of Tempe.
He’s hoping to paint more murals, but he’s also thinking about the big picture.
“The exciting thing is that Tempe is supporting public art, which adds so much character to neighborhoods and makes them even more special,” he said. “Any time you put art in public spaces for anybody to see any time, it’s pretty fantastic.”