City Beat

Guts and humanity drive Sacramento muralists

Artists Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel
Artists Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel Chantel Elder

Susanne Mandell saw it early in Hennessy Christophel and Sofia Lacin – “creativity, guts and humanity.”

Mandell is a retired art instructor from Mira Loma High School. She probably inspired many students, but Christophel and Lacin are among those who stick out.

They were talented, but even more, they were caring. When Mandell’s son died in a car crash during the girls’ sophomore year, they were a rock for their beloved teacher.

“It seemed that this terrible event sealed their commitment to heartfelt pursuits and deep friendships,” Mandell said. “Students like these who have been able to focus their passion into such achievement are manna to a teacher’s heart.”

At the moment, Christophel, 29, and Lacin, 30, are the busiest public artists in Sacramento. And the words Mandell uses to describe them are in everything they do.

They have humanity. One of their grandest murals was painted inside a light rail and automobile tunnel north of downtown. Every day, waves of homeless men and women travel through the tunnel. It’s a brighter, warmer walk now, because of art.

They have creativity. Take the series of murals they’re painting on the sides of old warehouses off Broadway, an outpost where hundreds of homes are planned at a development called The Mill. The murals are a colorful, modern take on the area’s industrial past.

And they have guts. Who else would plan to spend several weeks toiling under a freeway overpass, painting what is likely to be among the signature works of public art in this city?

That freeway job is the one everyone is talking about. “Bright Underbelly” will cover nearly 70,000 square feet under the W/X Freeway, above the spot where the Sunday farmers market is held.

Christophel and Lacin – with the help of their creative consultant and manager, Tre Borden – have raised more than $100,000 for the mural. They have a few more permits to finalize with the state and hope to begin painting in the next couple of months.

Christophel and Lacin were both born and raised in Sacramento. They didn’t expect to remain here as adults, but like a lot of artists their age, they’ve been pleased with how big an impact they’re able to make on the city’s art landscape.

“This has been a great place for us to get our start because there’s such a hunger for art,” Christophel said. “And we can be part of shaping the city. We’re maturing as artists as Sacramento is maturing.”

Sacramento’s old guard of art masters relied heavily on the city’s connection to nature for inspiration. Young artists such as Christophel and Lacin see the city through a more urban lens. It’s clear not just in their work, but in the work of other artists behind the alleyway murals and graffiti art in Oak Park, midtown and downtown.

“We’re trying to define our identity as an urban center,” Lacin said.

In their case, with creativity, guts and humanity.