Nolagirl and I were walking on Main Street in Mesa, AZ, looking for the Big Pink Chair. We approached a building at McDonald, on the south side of Main. I saw murals painted in large, shallow alcoves on the east side of the building.
I’ve never seen these before, I said.
The murals show Arizona natural landscapes and other snapshots of the state’s natural scenery.
The mural below was painted by Matlock the Artist, as we can see from the stenciled “signature” on the bottom left of the piece below. Matlocktheartist.com seems to be out of commission, but I traced the moniker to Mark Matlock, artist and owner/curator of (possibly defunt) Fragment Gallery in Tucson. The most current information I could find (2015) is that Matlock left Tucson and moved to Mesa.
I think it’s great when the artist has an element from one painting invisibly span the empty space between the two murals and pick up in the adjacent painting. I think this technique helps show the relationship between the murals and make them seem less like isolated pieces. In the pieces above and below, you can see how the artist has used this technique with the the tree branch that runs in front of the saguaro and ends up in the top right corner of the mural featuring the young woman.
Only one of these murals includes the human form, in the person of a young woman standing under the phases of the moon. Who is this woman? Who does she represent? Why is she standing under the changing moon? Those are questions I can’t answer.
I don’t see a signature on this mural either, but it reminds me of a small painting on the other side of Main Street, just down from the Smith-O-Lator cookie store. Perhaps the same anonymous artist created both paintings.
The following mural is called Three Riders and was painted in aerosol by Kerry Niemann of Apache Junction, AZ. Niemann
studied painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of Kansas in the early 1990’s…
Currently, [she is] most interested in drawing the people and places where [she] live[s]…in Apache Junction, including the mountains, rodeos, restaurants, cars, bull riders, spectators, actors, horses. [She] also paint[s] murals of similar subject matter.
Chuck Wan signed this mural of larger-than-life birds, but I can’t find any information about him, other than his collaboration with Carlos Mendoza on a mural for sale through Phoenix Center for the Arts.
On the other side of the building, where a wide alley bisects the block, we found more murals painted in large shallow alcoves. While the first murals we saw depict scenes of the state’s natural beauty, the second set shows aspects of mid-20th century American Southwest civilization such as advertisements on Route 66 and other highways and byways of a pre-interstate era.
These are all places in Arizona, Nolagirl said in awe.
She was right, according to information I found about these murals in a December 2015 article in the East Valley Tribune. More specifically, the murals depict places in Mesa. The article, “Downtown Murals Evoke Mesa Memories” says,
Murals that depict neon signs on businesses that previously operated in the city [Mesa] have been painted on the west wall of Surf and Ski building at 137 W. Main Street.
According to the aforementioned East Valley Tribune article, the next mural was painted by Jesse Perry. On his website, Perry says,
Using an abnormally bright color pallet to deliver my New School Pop Art Style, my work is both bold and versatile, often filled with humor and fun loving characters of the Southwest, commonly laced with hidden messages that speak to the idea of unity and community.
Also featured in the East Valley Tribune article was this mural by Mark Matlock, aka Matlock the Artist. According to the article, only black and white photos of the sign he chose to paint were available ,
so he had to choose colors for the mural. His desire was to make the mural look like an old post card and look like neon. He used a wash to rub over the final work…
My favorite of the neon sign murals is this one by David “Dski One” Oswoski of Mesa. I like the slightly blurry edges which gives the piece a dreamlike quality. I can imagine being a little kid in the backseat of the family Buick, eyes half closed after a long day of fun and seeing this sign beckoning me to spend the night in one of their clean, comfortable beds.
I was glad to spend some time with these murals; they really help beautify the two walls. It’s nice to have these downtown reminders of Arizona’s colorful commercial past and its fragile natural beauty.