By Randi Bjornstad
Eugene’s dream to beautify the city with 20 new world-class murals by 2021, when the International Association of Athletics Federations comes to town for its world championships —the project is called 20×21 EUG Mural Project — is coming one step closer to success this week.
That’s because Los Angeles artist Steven Lopez, who has a soft spot in his heart for Eugene because he earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Oregon in 2000, is busy painting a 12-foot high and 50-foot long expanse of wall on the west side of the WildCraft Cider Works warehouse at 254 Lincoln St.
The mural will be officially unveiled and celebrated during Wildcraft’s second annual Urban Orchard Harvest Party, from noon to 11 p.m. on Oct. 15 in the cider press room at 232 Lincoln St. The event features live music, food and drink, demonstrations and a kid zone.
Lopez’s WildCraft mural is not only eye-popping fanciful but also carries a subtle environmental message, reminding onlookers of the importance of bees in the environment as they cross-pollinate flowers that result in fruits that can be used for purposes ranging from a fresh-picked mouthful to a wedge of pie to a mug of cider.
Creating a mural takes some skills that don’t apply to most other kinds of painting, Lopez acknowledges.
“Painting something that’s 6×12 is not like something that’s 12×50,” he said. “You have to think in terms of ratio and size. A stroke that you make on paper is much longer when you make it on a wall.”
His first forays into mural painting came in the form of graffiti in the late 1980s when he was a teenager growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in East Los Angeles, Lopez said.
“Angst — the need to be heard — is part of what drives many graffiti artists ,” he said. “Many young people are very creative, but outlets for their creativity is not so readily available.”
By the early ‘90s, he knew he wanted to find a different path for his art, and that’s what led him to Eugene, where he first attended Lane Community College, then the UO.
While in Eugene, he created many outdoor murals, often signing them “Frustr8,” on the walls of businesses such as Le Petit Gourmet and Rest EZ Mattress. Some of his commissions came privately. One was from the Lane Arts Council to a create an art wall in downtown Eugene where young artists could display their talents, according to a 2012 story about Lopez that appeared in the Eugene Weekly.
In 2003, he returned to Los Angeles, where he spent several years working long hours doing fashion art that admittedly cut into his time for developing his singular style, characterized by bold lines and vivid colors, often reminiscent of a block print.
“It was something I had to do,” he said with a smile. “I had a lot of (student) debt that I had to pay off.”
Debbie Williamson Smith, communications manager for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the UO, is on the committee that dreamed up the idea of “muralizing” Eugene in time for the IAAF championships.
The original idea came from Isaac Marquez, the city of Eugene’s public art manager, Williamson Smith said.
“It was an idea Isaac (Marquez) just threw out one day in a meeting,” she said. “It sounded like a good idea, so we formed a committee, and it just grew and grew from there.”
The mural project, officially sponsored by Eugene’s public art program, is being done as thriftily as possible, Williamson Smith said.
“We started seeking out world-class mural artists and asking them if they would be anywhere near Eugene before the IAAF meet — we wanted to have international artists to reflect the international flavor of the competition,” she said.
“If they were working somewhere not too far away, we could pay their air fare to come to Eugene, and our idea was to find local people to provide them with a place to stay while they’re here and restaurants willing to help with their meals.”
Other donations have included discounts from a local scaffolding company and donations of paint by a local retailer, she said.
The next step was to find business owners who wanted to have murals on their walls and match them up with artists whose styles complemented their own. The murals aren’t intended to be permanent, but owners will agree to leave them up for at least a year following the IAAF trials.
The Lopez mural is the third of the 20 to be completed, and the committee plans to finish at least five more in 2017, Williamson Smith said.
The first in the series went up at Cowfish at 62 W. Broadway, created by a group of Brazilian artists who call themselves the Acidum Project.
The second, by New York street artist Beau Stanton, is on the back wide of the McDonald Theatre at 1010 Willamette St., overlooking the Lane Transit District’s downtown bus station.
Artists who have expressed interest in doing future murals come from Argentina, China, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and United Kingdom, as well as the United States.
Image above: Steven Lopez works on his mural that is part of the 20×21 EUG Mural Project, which aims to create 20 high-art outdoor paintings in Eugene by the time the city hosts a major world championship track meet in 2021.
Photo Credit: Randi Bjornstad