.Public Murals Hit the Streets in Sonoma County

Because he wrote plays, Shakespeare thought all the world was a stage. Had he been a painter, the bard might have said, “all the world’s a canvas.”

In the North Bay, local and visiting artists alike are doing their best to make the region’s cities and towns feel like canvases with a slew of visually appealing murals that are transforming industrial spaces, shops and neighborhood spots into community-minded outdoor galleries.

Now, with the pandemic keeping indoor gatherings away, the University Art Gallery at Sonoma State University is celebrating local art in public places with its new virtual exhibition, “Spray It Like You Mean It: Contemporary Murals of Sonoma County.”

The online collection of images features several large-scale works that adorn silos, fences and parking garages. Some of the featured murals are well known to commuters, some are hidden gems tucked away in alleys.

“I kept driving around Santa Rosa and seeing all these different murals, and new murals in my neighborhood,” Carla Stone, University Art Gallery exhibitions coordinator, says. “Once you start noticing them, you notice them everywhere.”

Toying around with the idea of a virtual mural exhibit, Stone reached out to Sonoma County–based arts advocate Spring Maxfield to curate the collection.

“Murals once were seen as a double-edged sword, either identifying blighted or down-market communities or as a harbinger of potential gentrification to come,” Maxfield writes in a statement accompanying the exhibit. “These ideas have changed, and our region is now embracing murals for the many benefits they provide to communities.”

The benefits of murals in public spaces extend beyond visually enhancing a drab-looking wall or landmark. The array of murals in Sonoma County highlight the vibrant cultures that live here, speak about social issues that matter to locals, and bolster the community’s interest and support of overlooked neighborhoods.

Selected murals in the exhibit include Good vs. Evil, by artist Joshua Lawyer and collaborators MJ Lindo and Hepos. Located on Sebastopol Road in the Roseland Village, the piece depicts a “David versus Goliath”–type standoff between a young indigenous woman and a hulking luchador figure. Also in Santa Rosa, Nameless (pictured) and an adjoining mural, Beauty Not Forgotten. The Pomo People, inject natural beauty into the downtown neighborhood and honor Sonoma County’s native Pomo people.

The online exhibit also features images of the whimsically abstract Keller Street Parking Garage Installation in Petaluma and The Lady of Life and Death/Vida de la Muerte mural in Boyes Hot Springs, which was created by artist Chor Boogie and nearly 20 local teens in 2018.

“Spray It Like You Mean It” is the fourth exhibition the University Art Gallery has hosted online since the beginning of the fall semester last September, and the first that takes advantage of its digital format by presenting a show that could never fit inside the gallery’s walls.

“It was a big adjustment to wrap my head around how you hang art if you can’t hang art,” Stone says. “In the fall we were finding our way, but now I think we are finding our groove.”

“Spray It Like You Mean It” can be viewed at artgallery.sonoma.edu.
Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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