Mural, Mural on the Wall

When they painted over the Rose Johnson mural outside Paisley Violin, I was bereft. I doubted I'd find an outdoor mural I liked as much; I'm a Rose fan from way back. There's something about her brightly colored, solemn-faced figures that I can't get enough of, so I found myself taking Grand whenever I could, even if it was sort of out of my way, just so I could spin past Paisley Violin (1030 Grand Avenue) for a quick Rose Johnson fix.

Then, one day, it was gone, and driving was just driving, with no public art to look forward to. My mural was missing, and I needed another because, let's face it, getting around in this town has never been any fun, and with all the ripped-up roads, it's even less amusing. I tried adopting that gorgeous pop-art frieze on the side of Zao (925 Grand Avenue), a gallery not far from my house. But the woman with the giant sunglasses in the painting looks too much like my niece, the one who notified me of her recent marriage, a month after the fact, in a form e-mail in which she asked for my mailing address, as if we were casual acquaintances rather than relatives who lived in the same city. So driving by Zao just pissed me off and I stopped doing it.

Next, I tried making the big Buddha painting outside of Paper Heart Gallery (750 Grand Avenue) my own, but even though it's beautifully done, I'm kind of creeped out by upbeat religious iconography. Buddha looks so happy in every setting and, having once been Catholic, I prefer depictions of deities who are suffering. My husband suggested that cool fresco of Marilyn Monroe on the side of that abandoned automotive shop on East Indian School Road, but I already collect vintage dishware and own two Elaine Page albums; I'm afraid that looking more than occasionally at a giant painting of Marilyn will tip me over the edge and I'll start wearing skirts and carrying a cigarette extension or something.

Aurore Chabot's multilayered "A Vortex of Time and Space" at Sky Harbor is nice, but Terminal Four isn't convenient to anything, so I'd have to go out of my way to ogle that one. I considered that mosaic mural on Monroe between 13th and 15th Avenues, but tile art kind of bugs me, and I read somewhere that the city paid troubled teens to make this mural, which seems somehow disingenuous to me. I even tried parking in front of Way Cool Hair (1524 East McDowell Road) and staring at the whole front of that salon, which is a gorgeous mural depicting our overbearing desert sun and how people survive it, a subject dear to my heart. But the thought of teenagers getting their bangs trimmed on the other side of Jorael Elliott's groovy painting was a big turn-off.

I was out of ideas, so I called Beatrice Moore. Beatrice is to the downtown art scene what Liz Smith is to cheesy Hollywood gossip; if you want to know what's up with painters or why you can't find a mural to hug, you call Beatrice. "If there are fewer murals," she told me, "it's because the taggers are so disrespectful. They'll paint on anything, even over somebody else's mural. That's what happened to the Paisley Violin, you know. It got tagged so badly they had to just paint over it. Taggers have no respect."

"It's the same with murals as it is with old buildings here," Susan Copeland said when I phoned her. "Here today, gone the next." Susan, who's done a number of outdoor murals all over Phoenix, many of them in conjunction with local high school art classes, told me about a new outdoor mural that Angela Cazel-Jahn is trying to get permission to do. Angela's written a grant proposal asking for funding to paint a giant mural on a building that's about to be torn down.

"Then I'll get a video artist to take a video of the mural and post it on the Internet," Angela said, "so that after the building is knocked over, the mural, which will depict how we keep tearing down old buildings all over downtown, will live on."

I hope Angela gets her grant, paints her mural, and posts it online. But I can't wait that long. While we were chatting, I remembered that Angela oversaw the commission of an outdoor mural that still graces the side of Summit High School (728 East McDowell Road), facing the Sonic where I sometimes stop for Oreo Cookie Shakes. It's just up the street from my house and, while it's no Rose Johnson, it's not unlovely, either. I can get to it easily and quickly and I bet, even if it gets tagged, it'll be a while before anyone notices. It's mine now.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela