Sonoma State gallery salutes the murals of Sonoma County
With museums and many galleries closed during the pandemic, arts leaders at Sonoma State University have figured out a way to take art lovers both outdoors and online to enjoy creative work.
“Because of COVID, all indoor art activities have come to a screeching halt,” Santa Rosa arts advocate Spring Maxfield said.
As the guest curator of the new online art exhibit “Spray It Like You Mean It: Murals of Sonoma County,” presented online by the University Art Gallery, Maxfield has organized an alternative to closed museums and art galleries.
Not only can frustrated art lovers see the show at artgallery.sonoma.edu, featuring photos of large local murals by different artists, fans also can note their locations for future self-guided driving tours.
“If people are feeling at itch to get out, they can seek out these murals,” Maxfield said.
Maxfield was brought in to choose which murals to include in the exhibit, but the project had its beginning at the university’s Rohnert Park campus gallery.
“Sonoma County over the past decade or so has become a tremendously vibrant region for murals,” said Jennifer Bethke, lecturer and art historian at Sonoma State and interim director of its art gallery. “We were interested in highlighting this development.”
Bethke traced the rise of large outdoor murals throughout the county back to 2013, when Ricky Watts of Sebastopol painted his mural on the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma; Bud Snow of Oakland painted her “Spirit Wall” at the Roseland silos and Erik Burke of Reno painted “A Difference of Skin,” also at the silos.
“We had prominent artists coming in from outside the area doing some pretty prominent work,” Bethke said.
One of those was internationally acclaimed spray paint and street artist Chor Boogie of San Rafael. In 2018, Boogie collaborated with 20 teenage students on a mural in Boyes Hot Springs. It blends bright images of vineyards, springs, Dia de los Muertos icons and constellations named for animals.
The Artstart public art and apprentice artist training program, which started in Santa Rosa in 1999, also brought local murals to prominence.
“We seem to have arrived at a moment of ‘murals Renaissance’ in the county, with lots of experimentation and quite a plethora of impressive artistic accomplishment on display,“ Bethke said. That has included Boogie’s collaboration, murals in Roseland and other Santa Rosa neighborhoods and in downtown Petaluma, she said.
In choosing work for the new exhibit, Maxfield said she wanted to emphasize murals by local artists as well as some the better-known muralists who visited the county to create murals.
“Just being an advocate for public art and a cheerleader for artists, I am always interested in something like this,” she said. “I’m happy to jump in.”
With Maxfield joining the project, Bethke found the local expertise she wanted for the exhibit.
“I’ve known Spring for a long time, so she came to mind,” Bethke said. “She is very involved in the local art scene.”
Maxfield also served as the producer of the annual Great Handcar Regatta in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square from 2008 through 2011.
More recent murals chosen by Maxfield for the new exhibit include “Good vs. Evil” by Joshua Lawyer, MJ Lindo and Hepos in Santa Rosa’s Roseland district and a couple of Santa Rosa murals by sisters Saskia, Lilia and Marije Rechin, all from 2019.
“The Good Life” by Amandalynn, painted last year in Forestville on the exterior of the Forestville Laundromat, is also featured in the show.
Bethke, who also has worked with the Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, follows Michael Schwager, who retired last year after serving as director of the Sonoma State University Art Gallery for 29 years.
The mural exhibit is the first one Bethke has overseen in her new role on campus. It was prompted by a suggestion from Carla Stone, Schwager’s long-term exhibitions coordinator and collections manager.
Bethke credits Stone with the original idea for a virtual exhibit that brings local murals to potential viewers.
“It makes so much sense since we can’t be in the gallery,” Bethke said. “It’s an opportunity to do what we normally wouldn’t be able to do.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.