Arts & Theater

Wide Open Walls mural festival brings locals together with big names

Hear why Mayor Darrell Steinberg loves the name 'Wide Open Walls'

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks at a press conference for this year's Wide Open Walls mural festival. The festival, which runs Aug. 10-20, is expected to feature 50 artists creating 40 new murals.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks at a press conference for this year's Wide Open Walls mural festival. The festival, which runs Aug. 10-20, is expected to feature 50 artists creating 40 new murals.

Dozens of artists will descend on Sacramento next month to paint murals all over the city during the 10-day Wide Open Walls mural festival.

Wide Open Walls 2018, which takes place Aug. 9-19, will feature about 40 local, national and international artists.

Organizers are challenging the artists to create designs that align with their landscape, with the goal that the murals will become permanent gifts to Sacramento, according to a post on the event’s Facebook page.

The list of artists include names such as Shepard Fairey, best known for his “Hope” poster Barack Obama used during the 2008 presidential campaign, and Shamsia Hassani, the first female graffiti artist in Afghanistan, along with locals like Michele Murtaugh and Aizik Brown.

Murtaugh is an Arizona native who, according to her biography, started teaching herself how to paint when she was 30. She lives in Sacramento and most of her work focuses on the detailed female form draped in fabrics set against an uncluttered white background.

The white provides an infinite space that she can play with, Murtaugh said, and fabric takes on a character and emotion as well.

Much of her work, which Murtaugh describes as very powerful, sensual and passionate, might also be considered a little too risque to be displayed on the side of, say, the Elks Tower Casino and Lounge on J Street -- which it will be.

But Murtaugh has come up with a compromise.

“I’m making it a little more palatable for the public, but still keeping with the strong powerful women as the center characters for my work,” Murtaugh said.

Four silk aerialists will hang from the top of the building, said Murtaugh, adding that its has been a challenge to come up with a design because of all the Elks Tower’s windows.

Some of the murals will also draw on artists’ personal connections to Sacramento.

Brown grew up in Sacramento and went to Sacramento Charter High School before attending Humboldt State.

His mural will be in Oak Part at 34th Street and Third Avenue, Brown said, on the wall of a building where he once attended College Track, a nonprofit that provides low-income and underserved youths with guidance and support to help them graduate with a four-year degree. He has also been working for the organization since 2015.

“That kind of ties into what I’ll be creating,” Brown said.

Graffiti pop art is how Brown describes his work – but he adds that it also has a lot of abstraction, because much of what he depicts is very personal and spiritual, a way to connect to his ancestry and where he comes from.

“My art is a very big representation of myself,” Brown said, adding that his cultural background, which includes Mexican and African American heritage, has a strong influence on what he creates.

The best way he can describe the theme of the Oak Park mural is “The home is where the heart is,” Brown said, adding that he wants to give back to a community that has given so much to him.

A ribcage with a heart will be the center of the piece, above which will be a rendition of the Oak Park sign from McClatchy Park. The ribcage will be flanked by a man’s skull on the left and a woman’s on the right, both wearing African-style head wear. Brown said that on the far edges of the mural, trees will extend their branches through the entire piece, symbolizing a winding connection between Brown, his heritage and the community he is rooted in.

“It’s kind of weird that there’s a full circle coming around,” Brown said, adding that it’s a really great feeling to be doing the mural. “It’s crazy, it’s dope. I’m glad that I was put into the Oak Park area.”

All artists are required to submit concept designs for approval from participating building owners and Wide Open Walls, according to event organizers.

“Prior to offering artists locations, we will be spending considerable time working with different community organizations to suggest the best locations to integrate their artistic voices with that of the community,” event organizers said. “We want to provide artists with context to create projects that will truly enrich the greater Sacramento community for many years to come.”

A full list of artists and their bios can be found here.

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