Colorful, whimsical mural enlivens pool area at Sacramento’s Central YMCA

The 1,000-square-foot “Underwater Y” mural is whimsical and unexpected. It’s a colorful showstopper that brightens the walls of the once-drab patio adjacent to the heated indoor swimming pool at the Sacramento Central YMCA.

The three-dimensional trompe l’oeil-style mural in a rainbow of hues depicts an underwater “coral reef paradise” rich with marine life and drama. A volcano erupts and spews lava near a sunken galleon with a mermaid figurehead. A trio of great white sharks swims near manta rays, dolphins and green turtles. Farther along, a pod of humpback whales cruises by.

Darting in and out of the anemones and plants are tropical fish in vibrant blues and yellows, including two that give a nod to Nemo and Dory from the 2003 Disney animated movie “Finding Nemo.” The ruins of an ancient civilization are visible. Seating ledges are decorated with starfish and seashells.

On Friday night, local artists, neighbors and YMCA executives and members gathered at the Y at 21st and W streets for the first of two public unveilings of the mural. At noon Saturday, a second ceremony drew more YMCA members and friends of the two artists who created the mural.

Working together and separately, Sacramento creative painter and muralist Markos Egure and his assistant, oil-paint portrait artist and state worker Teresa Gutierrez, donated their talent and 600 hours of their time from Aug. 10 to Nov. 26 to create the striking mural, done in acrylic paints. It’s 112 feet long and 9 feet high, painted on three textured brick walls.

“(The mural) is part of my footprint here on Earth, and has two identities,” said Egure, who owns Wes Kos Images in south Sacramento ( www.weskosimages.com). “The simplistic one is: It’s a pretty picture showing aquatic life over a scenic coral reef. The success in that is it throws off the feeling of a tranquil area of the world to the (YMCA) members who use the pool on a daily basis.”

The deeper meaning is more philosophical, Egure said. “It came to me (during the work) as I talked with (YMCA members) from all walks of life,” he said. One of the elements “is a glowing treasure chest, the brightest thing in the mural. It has symbolic meaning. It’s empty, and the jewels and doubloons are scattered around. Crabs hold coins in their claws, and pearls and gems fall into a (fissure) in the ocean floor, going back to the creator.

“But the chest glows with a different type of valuables,” he said. “I contemplated that we tend to lose ourselves when we just go for the (material) valuables in life. I’m challenging viewers to ask themselves, ‘What are my personal treasures – family, career, health?’”

Among the mural’s many elements is a school of fish swimming toward the treasure chest. Look closely and you’ll see that one of them swims in the opposite direction “We’re all swimming toward a treasure of some kind,” Egure explained, “but some people are unique and seek their own individualism.”

For Gutierrez, the project was a learning and growing experience. “This was my first mural, my first time working in acrylics and my first (venture) into the fantasy 3-D style that Markos paints,” she said. “I met him through his website, and we started talking about art. He asked if I wanted to help paint a mural as a donation project, and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Egure was a “great mentor, and he put a lot of trust in me,” she said. “It was so rewarding because the kids would come up and watch us paint and look at us like they were so inspired. The reward I got from it was seeing a project benefit everybody.”

“The mural was his idea, and it has transformed a space that is seen by a lot of people in the community,” said Jay Lowden, CEO of the YMCA of Superior California. “We have 2,200 members, and 600 children come here every month year-round for swim lessons. Now their parents will have a very inviting space to sit and wait for them.”

Egure will be reimbursed for his art materials, Lowden said, but the question arises: Why take on such a major project for no pay?

“This is my way of giving back to the community,” said Egure, who was commissioned by the YMCA in 2011 to paint a creative logo on the wall of the pool area, a project that sparked the mural concept. “I can’t do what other people with more financial stability may do, (such as) offer scholarships or some other type of incentive. I’m a different kind of source. I try to build inspiration. Besides, the location was screaming for a mural at my level.”

Egure has painted other murals and “creative signage” around town since 1997, “about 175 of them” (mostly commissioned), some more in the public eye than others.

Many were done for elementary, middle and high schools. His 1,400-square-foot mural at Rio Americano High School is themed to honor its music and band program (he donated his time to expand the project from its original size). A 2,500-square-foot mural at Encina Preparatory High School in Sacramento is in “creative development.” His three “Carmichael Castle” murals are an ongoing project at the 10,000-square-foot Laser Tag center in Carmichael. He painted a 3-D mural inside King Arthur’s Castle at Fairytale Town, and completed 44 projects for the Sacramento Kings and Sacramento Monarchs, many of them involving murals for reading and learning centers.

Egure is now putting together a 40-mile-long tour of 11 of his most visible murals, a project he hopes the city of Sacramento will endorse as part of its civic-promotions program.

“I’ve worked in corporate America, and I’ve chosen this artistic lifestyle because I hope to inspire others,” Egure said. “The rewards are deeper than financial gain, and come when the public shows its appreciation. A lot of people say of me, ‘At least he gets to do what he wants to do.’ As my son says of my art, ‘It’s more than a choice, it’s a calling.’”