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Seven artists create new mural art for The Barlow

What do a tattoo artist from Sebastopol, a landscape architect from Forestville and a commercial artist from Petaluma all have in common?

They all have artwork featured in The Barlow’s new outdoor mural exhibit, “Greetings from The Barlow: A Postcard Tribute to Sonoma County,” now on display and scheduled to continue indefinitely.

For the show, artists were asked submit work that represents the county: “If you were to send a postcard from Sonoma, what would it look like? How would you render our beautiful county?” The result is a handful of large-scale paintings brightening The Barlow’s grey and white exteriors with color.

“I like to include a broad spectrum of people,” said Saree Robinson, the show’s curator. “We put out a call for submissions from Sonoma County artists, and we got 34.”

Robinson and her jurors, both art gallery owners in The Barlow, chose seven winners from the submissions to create 6-by-4-foot mural panels, which were installed at the shopping and dining center in Sebastopol last week.

“The murals are scattered throughout the campus,” Robinson said. “You can go on a bit of a treasure hunt to find them all.”

The participating gallery owners, Lori Austen of the Lori Austen Gallery and Jennifer Hirshfield of Gallery 300, enthusiastically support the concept of installing artwork outdoors at The Barlow.

Austen said she’s pleased with the finished outdoor exhibit.

“You usually think of a mural as being painted on a building, but these are mounted on movable surfaces. These are murals in the sense that they’re in the open air,” she explained.

“It’s a very playful and interactive theme during a serious time in all our lives,” she added, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects.

And with fewer roadtrips happening because of the pandemic, visitors can still take that I-was-there selfie.

“People can stand in front of the art and have their photos taken, just as they would if they were traveling,” Austen said.

Christian Nolan, who founded the Buddha’s Palm Tattoo Shop in Sebastopol in 2007, chose a seascape for his mural in the show.

“I’ve spent 25 years surfing the North Coast,” he said. “(The coast is) an aspect of Sonoma County that’s not always included in art shows.”

Nolan used latex wall paint, an airbrush and paint pens to create his winning entry.

“It’s super exciting to have my art seen where there’s foot traffic,” he said.

Watercolor painting, calligraphy and pen-and-ink drawings are something landscape architect Briana Morrison of Forestville does for fun. She applied those skills to her entry in The Barlow’s mural contest.

“I’m flattered to be included in this exhibit.” she said. “This is my very first mural. I really love going to The Barlow, and I like to do different art projects.”

She designed a map marked with icons and illustrated with acrylic and latex paint, then embellished with calligraphy.

For Maxfield Bala, whose Bala Creative company in Petaluma handles both public and commercial art assignments, painting large murals with a postcard theme is familiar territory.

He has created “Welcome to ...” murals in Petaluma on Petaluma Boulevard and in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as on a farm near Sonoma.

“I do murals under contract all over the country and as far away as Cancun in Mexico,” Bala said. “It’s cool to finally have a piece on display in Sebastopol.”

A fan of old-timey postcards from the 1920s and ’30s, Bala included iconic images from the county’s tourist attractions, including food, beer and wine, as well as a Gravenstein apple tree.

The youngest artist represented is Rima Makaryan, 18, who graduated from Montgomery High School this year and already has made a name for herself as a muralist in Sonoma County.

She led the creation of the immigration-themed “Dreamer” mural at the school in 2019 and more recently collaborated with another artist for a mural at Ross Street and Mendocino Avenue in downtown Santa Rosa that honors three local women activists.

The outdoor exhibit also includes work by Carolyn Tuchel of Santa Rosa and Audrey Maddigan-Martin and Sarah Hessinger of Sebastopol.

“Greetings from The Barlow” is the center’s second annual mural contest, said Robinson, who also curated the first show in July 2019.

“That show was very much a trial,” she explained. “We were finding out what we wanted to do most. I hope this project keeps on building, year after year.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

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