(Photos by Randi Bjornstad)
Above: Chinese artist Hua Tunan transformed a traditional Chinese tiger-and-dragon art theme to mural size at Vistra Gallery. His painting is part of the city of Eugene’s 20by21EUG Mural Project to create wall murals throughout the downtown area before the Olympic Trials begin in 2021.
By Randi Bjornstad
The fourth of 20 murals that the city of Eugene’s public art program is racing to complete by the time the International Association of Athletics Federations comes to town for its world championships in 2021 is freshly on the wall now in the Whiteaker neighborhood.
This one, created by Chinese street artist Hua Tunan, depicts a decidedly traditional theme — tiger and dragon — in a distinctly up-to-the-minute artistic style.
Speaking sometimes in English and sometimes with the help of an interpreter, Hua said he started his artistic career in the traditional way, creating ink-on-paper drawings, then graduating to small acrylic-on-canvas paintings.
It was after he began studying art in Singapore in 2011 that he became fascinated with exposure via magazines and the Internet to American street art.
“That gave me the idea of using (Chinese) painting as street art,” Hua said. “It would be very different, very colorful.”
It also would be challenging, translating the painstakingly precise Chinese art methods to something so grandiose and comparatively loosely constructed.
“The first time I tried to paint huge, it was very, very difficult,” the slight 25-year-old admitted. “In Chinese painting, something one or two meters is very huge. So it was hard for me to do something so big. I practiced and practiced.”
Street art is not legal in Singapore, “so it was very hard to find a wall to work on,” Hua said. “After I graduated from university, I went back to China, where it is easier, and found a wall where I could paint.”
Being back in the vastness of China, with its widely varying climatic conditions from one part of the country to another, helped him develop his technique further.
“There is very interesting street art in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but each place has such different weather and humidity, so every wall in every city has a different texture,” he said. “That helped me to (perfect) my art.”
As with his previous street art, when he arrived in Eugene to take on the task of transforming Vistra Framing & Gallery’s blank concrete block wall at 411 W. Fourth Ave., Hua had a clue what he might create, but no solid plan.
“Sometimes I just start in, sometimes I make a sketch,” he said. “This time I made a sketch, but not too many details. I prefer a more free style.”
After seeing the wall, he decided to create “two popular animals in China, the tiger and the dragon, both popular and with the same strength,” on a brilliant red background “that is special — lucky — in China.”
The result is fine with Vistra Framing & Gallery co-owner Scott Lewis, a professional photographer who owns the business with his wife, landscape artist Diane Lewis.
Not only is the mural strikingly attractive, “It’s easy now to tell people where we are — I can just say, ‘I’m the red wall behind REI,’ ” Lewis quipped.
The first of the hoped-for 20 murals is one created by the Acidum Project, a group of artists from Brazil, on the alley wall at Cowfish at 62 W. Broadway in downtown Eugene.
Next came a high-in-the-sky creation by New York artist Beau Stanton, who painted the back wall of the McDonald Theatre at 1010 Willamette St., overlooking the Lane Transity District’s downtown Eugene bus station.
Third was a fanciful 12×50-foot mural a few blocks away from Hua’s street art, on the side of the WildCraft Cider Works warehouse at 254 Lincoln St., which 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.
That mural is the work of Steve Lopez, who lives in Los Angeles but honed his artistic skills while studying first at Lane Community College and then completing his degree at the University of Oregon in the mid-1990s.
The idea for the mural project came originally from Isaac Marquez, the city of Eugene’s public art manager, said Debbie Williamson Smith, who is communications manager for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon and a member of the mural project committee.
The city officially sponsors the project, and the committee has worked hard to attract international artists to reflect the worldwide participation of the athletes who will be coming to Eugene in four years, but with a very thrifty budget, Williamson Smith said in an earlier interview about the project.
Part of the selection project was to find world-class mural artists who might be coming somewhere near Eugene during the necessary time frame so that the project could pay their round-trip air fare to and from somewhere much closer than their far-flung homes, she said.
Community members have stepped forward to host the artists for the days they spend in Eugene, and some restaurants have volunteered to supply them with meals. Other businesses, such as scaffolding company and a paint retailer, also have lent support to the mural project.
Business owners who consent to have their walls painted are matched with artists whose styles blend with their own tastes. The murals aren’t required to be permanent, but the owners of the walls must agree to keep the artwork intact for at least a year following the end of the IAAF trials.
Coming event: “Eugene Walls” celebration, part of the 20by21EUG Mural Project
What — A week of events featuring international artists creating murals, including Blek le Rat (France), Telmo Miel (The Netherlands), Hyuro (Spain/Argentina), Jaz (Spain/Argentina), Dan Witz (United States), Hush (United Kingdom) and Eugene artist Ila Rose
July 30 — Eugene Sunday Streets, an afternoon of car-free fun along Broadway in downtown Eugene
Aug. 2 — A reception for the artists at the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer museum of Art, followed by a free outdoor film
Aug. 4 — Mural tour during the Lane Art Council’s downtown Eugene First Friday ArtWalk