Jason Bove and Matt Brown are trying to accomplish what years of struggle and millions of dollars spent by the city of Sacramento have failed to achieve: making the 800 block of K Street attractive.
The pair were at work last week on a mural that stretches 150 feet, covering a fence at the corner of Eighth and K streets; its depiction of a sweeping skyline conceals a hole in the ground left years ago after various buildings collapsed, caught fire or were demolished.
The artists' new work is surrounded on either side by more murals that have appeared in recent weeks, replacements for faded advertisements promoting the area's nightlife and restaurants.
"It makes me hate the city landscape a little less," Brown said, applying streaking yellow paint to an image of the sun at the center of his artwork. "It doesn't have to be all gray and abandoned. It's so simple, too. It's just color and an idea. That's all you need."
The mural project, involving 10 local artists, is part of a growing body of public art spreading through alleys, parking garages and storefronts in the central city. In many cases, art has been created on spaces where years of neglect have created decrepit, empty canvases.
That was the case at Eighth and K. A rundown building on the corner blew over in a windstorm 10 years ago and, despite plans by city officials and more than one developer, the lot remains empty. The hole extends down the block to where two other buildings were demolished after one of them burned. Now, weeds grow as high as city buses inside the fence, and some of the muralists have reported seeing bats and skunks roaming the site.
The purple vinyl advertisement being replaced was put up in 2008, specifically to conceal the emptiness on the other side of the fence. A similar approach was taken a few years earlier, when copies of photographs were hung around an empty lot at Third Street and Capitol Mall, where a plan to build twin condominium and hotel towers had fallen apart.
Beyond downtown, murals for years have covered the sides of businesses in central city neighborhoods, and more are appearing all the time both spontaneous expressions and organized efforts such as the one at Eighth and K. The tiled artwork of the so-called "Dragon House" is a fixture in Curtis Park. And the mural of Ishi, the last survivor of the Yahi American Indian tribe, is a haunting image at 24th Street and Broadway.
Shelly Willis, interim director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, said murals can "change a person's experience of the city."
"Successful murals will define a place, revive neighborhoods, increase pedestrian traffic, become a destination and make a place more interesting," Willis said.
Megan Garcia, marketing manager at the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which organized the mural project at 8th and K, said it was time to try something new at the corner. The partnership held a fundraiser and raised $7,000, enough to pay for the artists' supplies.
"It's a busy thoroughfare and it needed a refresh," she said. "And we wanted something a little more inspiring than what we had."
Shawn Peter, a street guide for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said artists and property owners increasingly are looking to create beauty on unused space, including walls facing alleys. For 13 years, Peter has served as a street guide for the partnership and is known for organizing walking tours on public art and historic architecture in the area.
Standing in the alley between J and K on Ninth Street, Peter gestured to a series of murals showing blackbirds dressed in fancy clothes. The artwork has become a conversation piece for patrons of Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, a fashionable new restaurant.
"This is a true urban movement," Peter said.
Nearby, the mural project at Eighth and K should be completed soon. It will remain for at least a year, with the hope that construction eventually will begin on a planned retail and office project.
"Hopefully there will be a time soon when there doesn't need to be a mural there," Garcia said.
Adam Grant is nearly finished with his contribution to the project, which faces the alley between K and L streets. His art replicates a drawing his 5-year-old son, Alex, made of himself gardening.
More than once, a curious passer-by has stopped to ask what Grant was doing. Light-rail passengers peer out their windows at the new cityscape.
"The people walking by, the people on the trains, they're seeing something different here," Grant said. "It's not the same old wall they've been looking at every day."