AT 38TH STREET AND THE AURORA OVERPASS The painter was Patrick Gabriel, who now lives in Florida. He made the mural in 1996, and it is, well, awful.
  • JG
  • AT 38TH STREET AND THE AURORA OVERPASS The painter was Patrick Gabriel, who now lives in Florida. He made the mural in 1996, and it is, well, awful.

One day, I just lost it. It was the rollerblader. He wasn't real, he was painted. (You can't see him in the picture above.) He was roly-poly and whimsical and cutesy. A roly-poly, whimsical, cutesy, painted rollerblader who was lying prone, which I gathered from the jumbled angles of the rest of the mural was not an indication that he had fallen and been injured but was some formal aesthetic decision. I wished he had fallen and been injured. I wished him ill.* I was stuck in traffic next to this 500-foot-long mural in Fremont that day, a mural in a location where a person can expect to find herself in traffic and forced to take in the art for an extended period of time. Which only makes it worse. A person is trapped, wishing ill.

But I didn't want to diss the mural if it was made by, say, a gaggle of urchins. I did a little research.

And what I found is so good.

On June 27, 2012, The Fremontist blog wrote an extended story about the mural, including an interview with the artist, Patrick Gabriel, who made the mural almost entirely by himself in 1996. Amazingly, in the interview he basically disowns it. He says it hasn't aged well physically.

Obviously, the artist and I have different feelings about whimsical roly-poly rollerbladers lying on their backs. But we agree that the mural should go. When I read that, I thought, GREAT!

The Fremontist loves the mural. The Fremontist discusses its "legacy," and tells the story of its survival, with interesting details.

Since installation of the Aurora Bridge Mural the piece has sustained substantial graffiti damage. It has also endured, not always very well, southern UV exposure, wind, rain and the constant blizzard of hard, gritty road dust.

Immediately after painting the mural, Gabriel did gift the FAC with numbered paint cans and a mock-up chart that showed the mural and a chart of what colors went where. He deliberately avoided using blended colors. The image is created from blocks of single colors, with no blending between colors, so that graffiti tags could easily be painted over even by those lacking technical and/or artistic expertise.

Over the years, ‘painting parties’ were organized by the Fremont Arts Council, the Fremont Neighborhood Council (FNC) and even a few private citizens acting autonomously. After a few years, the numbered cans were used and discarded, and the mock-up disappeared in [the] chaos that is an Arts Council, all-volunteer organization.

Volunteers continued to ‘fix’ or ‘repair’ the mural, and with each coat they alter the original piece – as it was designed and painted by Gabriel. Alterations that Gabriel has written that he did not give authorize, on a work that still carries his name – and his copyright.

Gabriel still retains a copyright for the Aurora Bridge Mural, done in a style he used to call ‘People’s Art’ but now describes as ‘Cafe Art.’ When altered, by graffiti or good will, the Mural remains a piece of his work but no longer representative of his talent.

There's one more twist.

According to The Fremontist, Gabriel wants to be paid to make a new mural in the same location. The first time around, he wasn't paid, and he gave the mural as a gift to the community. That was a nice gesture. But in 500-foot-long artworks out in public, it's not the thought that counts.

Given that the artist is ready to let go of his own mural, can we graciously say our goodbyes to the rollerblader, go our separate ways, and consider a new use for that wall?

(Want to be cleansed of all this by good art? See more recommended art shows right here.)

*"I wish him ill" is one of my favorite lines from David Foster Wallace's essay about going on a luxury cruise—it is directed by DFW at the ship's villainous captain. When this section of the essay is read aloud to me, I giggle hard. You should try. The section isn't in the original, shorter Harper's piece, but it's in the full essay in the book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.