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Artist Mario Uribe has left his mark on Santa Rosa with two downtown sculptures: a memorial at City Hall to soldiers killed in war and a 13-foot-tall statue of a rainbow trout at the Santa Rosa Avenue gateway to the Prince Memorial Greenway.

Born in Southern California to parents of Basque heritage, Uribe, 66, spent his childhood at their Baja California home in Mexico, surrounded by their Japanese art collection.

Uribe made a name for himself in San Diego in the early 1970s with a series of silkscreen print posters of local landmarks, and then took the poster series nationwide. Soon he was showing his prints and paintings in galleries and museums. By the '80s, he was creating public murals for hospitals in Southern California and the Southwest, using a computer to help in the design of the murals by the early '90s.

He met Santa Rosa real estate agent and art patron Liz Kenner at a seminar on Japanese art in Marin in 1990 and eventually moved north, settling in San Rafael in 1994. He married Kenner and moved to Santa Rosa in 1995.

Mario and Liz Uribe helped the city of Santa Rosa launch the Artstart program 10 years ago, hiring student artists to design and decorate benches, signs and other projects for permanent public display around town.

Four and a half years ago, the couple bought a warehouse in the A Street art district near Juilliard Park.

The structure now houses 10 artist studios, with a small performance space and student art gallery facing Sebastopol Avenue.

Working one recent afternoon at the back of his building, Uribe took time to talk about his art and career:

<B>Do you think you have a higher local profile than an artist might normally have?</B> Could be. Recently, in the last year, having two highly visible commissions, people recognize my name. I was very well known in San Diego before I moved up here. When I came here, no one knew me.

<B>You have art all over town now. What's the piece that you consider the most important? </B>The veterans memorial, definitely. And the fish. It's almost embarrassing to have two pieces across the street from each other. A lot of people say, "Oh, that's your corner. That's your intersection."

<B>How did you get involved in the war memorial? </B>When the committee approached me, they were in trouble with their design. It was sort of a 17th- or 18th-century idea of what a monument should be.

It involved soldiers with guns. War memorials, at least in the past 50 years, have been about the soldiers that died, about names and healing.

<B>The first four granite columns list the names of fallen soldiers, but the last column is blank. Why is that? </B>People thought, "Oh, you're leaving room for more names." Actually, no. The columns all descend in size. That, and the last blank column, symbolize our hope that we'll never need to add names.

<B>Kids frolic in the fountain around the fish sculpture. Is that intentional? </B>Absolutely. We wanted people to come and touch it. We spent a lot time engineering the piece. Daniel Oberti helped me, not only in the design of the steel-and-concrete sculpture, but he was in charge of that construction, along with some Artstart apprentices.

<B>Do you have other art that's less well known? </B>I'm involved in a lot of things. They don't have my name on them. The Artstart signs. Murals and mosaics at the Prince Memorial Greenway. Those were from ideas I had. I pushed all that work toward Artstart.

<B>Why do you support Artstart? </B>Artstart provides young people with the opportunity to get paid doing artwork, to work with a client and work on commission, and to see what it's like. I want aspiring artists to have the opportunity to do this for a living. A lot of kids have gone on to become artists.

<B>Why did you buy this warehouse? </B>I was working out of a small studio in my home. I wanted to be in this area because there were already artists in this area, on A Street. When there's an art show opening in the neighborhood, everybody opens their studios.

<B>How does your lifelong exposure to Japanese art influence your work? </B>When I began to study Asian calligraphy and brushwork, I became enamored of the circle, because it has so much meaning. It's a symbol of completeness and wholeness. Visually, people identify with it, when they form a circle to dance or sit around the fire. It's a way to bring people together. Almost everything I do involves circles.

<B>What would you like to be known for? </B>I've always seen myself as a problem solver. I think that's a great role for an artist. I come up with art solutions to whatever problems come up. A lot of artists don't see themselves that way. I like public art that tells a story to the community.