Even if you didn't enjoy Snakes on a Plane and are currently fretting over poisonous, slithering creatures possibly finding their way to California shores thanks to El Niño, odds are, you’ll still dig the new mural at the recently opened Cobra Arcade Bar in Roosevelt Row. Painted by internationally renowned street artists El Mac (a.k.a. Miles MacGregor) and David Choe, the piece is called La Medusa.
Cobra co-owner Ariel Bracamonte says he laments not naming the new downtown hangout Pinky’s, after the lone female ghost in the original Pac-Man arcade game. Now though, he might be feeling better about being outvoted in naming the new venue. Snakes aren't common subjects for El Mac murals, several of which you can find in Phoenix. Which means Cobra just snagged itself a stand-out piece of street art.
Bracamonte says MacGregor, a longtime friend, suggested doing the mural and donated his time to paint it. MacGregor worked for a couple days on the piece, starting with the central figure created using concentric lines and small circles. He’d hold his spray paint in his right hand, and a piece of paper with the picture of a woman’s face in the other. For a time, the face was surrounded by only the white background painted out to create a blank canvas for the mural.
Eventually blank spaces to her left and right got painted in with broad strokes and splatters by David Choe, who collaborated with El Mac last year on a mural in Cambodia titled Thread of Life. Meant to honor artists killed during the country's genocide in the 1970s, that mural has since been painted over with stark white paint. For their Phoenix mural, Choe painted abstract lines that conjure images of snakes, which are best seen when viewing the work from a distance.
Like MacGregor, Choe was born in Los Angeles. He’s garnered international attention not only for his graffiti art, infused with lines that convey frenetic energy, but also ventures in comic books, clothing, and TV. He’s been commissioned to create work for big names including Jay-Z and Mark Zuckerberg. And he’s got an impressive list of corporate clients. Think CBS, Marvel Comics, Levis, and Vanity Fair, and others.
Medusa is his first Phoenix collaboration with MacGregor, whose work also graces walls at The Heavy Pedal and Flowers Beer & Wine. MacGregor grew up in Phoenix, where he still has family and pays fairly regular visits.
It took about three days to complete the mural, says Bracamonte, who kept the whole affair pretty hush-hush while it was going down. Sometimes the artists painted by day, other times by night. Now that it’s complete, passersby have started to pose for pictures in front of it. Whether they get the Medusa reference is debatable.
Medusa is one of the better known goddesses of Greek mythology, most often portrayed as a mix of great beauty and horror with the power to turn those who look upon her to stone. Some have imagined her being born with snakes instead of hair, while others have said her gorgeous locks were turned to writhing snakes before her beheading. The myth has engaged countless writers and philosophers through the years, including Ovid, Dante, Milton, and Nietzsche.
Although his work garners international acclaim, MacGregor displayed a soft-spoken humility when talking about the piece while he was painting. "It's just a favor for a friend," he says.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.