Here's the Story Behind Nevercrew's Bear Mural in Downtown Phoenix

Nevercrew mural in downtown Phoenix.EXPAND
Nevercrew mural in downtown Phoenix.
Lynn Trimble
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Bear sightings aren’t a common thing in downtown Phoenix. But now, you can spot two brown bears when cruising past the historical Heard building on Central Avenue between Monroe and Adams streets.

That’s where Nevercrew, a Switzerland-based artist collective, recently painted a pair of bears as part of a larger mural project at the site.

The piece measures more than 100 feet high, and took five days to complete. It was commissioned by Montana Avenue Capital Partners, a California-based real estate investment firm that has a regional office in Scottsdale.

Nevercrew artists Christian Rebecchi and Pablo Togni, who’ve worked together since 1996, started the project on Tuesday, January 30. They completed it on Friday, February 9. The title is still pending.

“We’re excited to be working in Phoenix,” Rebecchi says. “The people downtown have been really good to us.”

This is the first time the international artists have created work in Arizona. This project came together last spring, after building owners reached out to FatCap, an agency based in New York and Paris that helps businesses leverage high-end street art in their branding efforts.

“We only have a couple murals in the United States,” Rebecchi says of the Phoenix project. “The closet one is in Los Angeles.”

During the past two decades, they’ve painted murals around the globe, in cities that include Belgrade, Cairo, Dublin, and Milan. Future sites could include Shanghai and Dubai.

“We never even try to count how many we’ve done,” he says of all the murals they’ve painted during the course of two decades.

Nevercrew and Allesandro De Bon work on the interior mural at the historic Heard building.EXPAND
Nevercrew and Allesandro De Bon work on the interior mural at the historic Heard building.
Lynn Trimble

Often, Nevercrew’s work centers on communication and machinery, which makes it particularly well-matched to this Phoenix location.

The Heard building has historical significance, as the city’s first high-rise development. Built by Dwight Heard in 1919, it has just seven stories. It’s featured in an opening sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho.

The building has housed several media outlets through the years, including the Arizona Republic, Phoenix Gazette, and KTAR.

Its past inspired Nevercrew’s designs.

Their idea was a dual tribute to the history of the building and the role communications play in preserving history, according to FatCap managing director Anne-Laure Lemaitre, who curated the project.

The bears reference Mexican grizzly bears, which are extinct. They’re partly covered by black forms, which reference forms of communication that aren’t used any longer.

“It’s a way to highlight things that are no longer here,” Lemaitre says.

The completed project includes two exterior murals, and one interior mural. Nevercrew began by painting two bears and two small machines beneath them on the building’s south-facing wall.

Allesandro De Bon (L) with Nevercrew artists Pablo Togni and Christian Rebecchi in downtown Phoenix.EXPAND
Allesandro De Bon (L) with Nevercrew artists Pablo Togni and Christian Rebecchi in downtown Phoenix.
Lynn Trimble

Turns out, the number two has significance for these artists.

It references their artistic collaboration, the fact that communication requires at least two people, and the idea that different points of view are important, Rebecchi says.

After painting the bears, Nevercrew worked on a wall inside the lobby, which depicts printing presses, audio-visual equipment, and other communication-related technology that references the building’s past.

Then they painted the third design, a horizontal mural in an alleyway just north of the Heard building. It's designed to look like a neon "ON AIR" sign.

Most days they worked from around 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., without a break. Do the math, and it’s clear the whole project took about 100 hours to complete.

Only the bears are readily visible at first glance. And that’s by design.

It’s a way to create a sense of wonder for people as they discover additional elements, and to celebrate art moving beyond traditional spaces.

“With street art people don’t have to go to a museum,” Rebecchi says.

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

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