Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 29, 2010

'Canvassing' the neighborhood

Garage doors, exterior walls offer outlets for artistic expression

by Mike Lata

A fire-breathing dragon with outstretched wings, a Madonna and Child, mythical Greek creatures and Indian totems — all grace garage doors or nearby walls.

The painted murals make these homes really stand out.

A garage door does not have to be just a place to hide a car or household wares, but it can also be a canvas of artwork — often communicating historical, cultural or mythological meanings.

That large fire-breathing dragon lives on a garage door on Southampton Drive in Leland Manor. The owner and artist, Judith Wasserman, tried out many murals on her garage door before settling for this dragon.

"I always liked dragons and the previous mural was too cute," she said.

The dragon is reaching out with one talon while another talon holds an egg as it flies.

"Lots of people think of dragons as male and I thought it would be interesting to have a female mother that is a dragon," Wasserman said.

She continued the mural on a wall located at the side of the house and garage, with baby dragons hatching from a nest filled with eggs. One baby dragon even starts taking off in flight with an eggshell still covering most of its body.

Wasserman used to be an artist in the '70s and '80s and now is a partner with the firm Bressack & Wasserman Architect. She wanted a mural to occupy the space she saw as barren on her property, but also as a creative way to use her artistic skills. She painted this mural with the help of some friends.

"Garage doors are big, black, boring spaces so I think others should put art on them," she said.

It is also a way to draw attention to the property and her artwork.

"Kids come by and look at it for instance," she said.

Being able to draw on cultural and historic myths and apply it to a modern-day Palo Alto setting is a way some residents depict their murals.

Costa and Julie Sevastopoulos have meshed Greek mythology with joy-ride fun in a mural on their Forest Avenue front wall called "The Big Ride," painted by Palo Alto muralist Greg Brown. The mural shows a woman being greeted by a Minotaur dressed in a carnival uniform as she enters a ride.

Costa Sevastopoulos is a Greek native born in Athens whose mother is from Crete. This mural is based on the Cretan myth of princess Ariadne, a labyrinth and the Minotaur called "Theseus and the Minotaur."

The Minotaur is half bull, half man, Julie Sevastopoulos said.

Brown used acrylic paints and it took him about a month, Sevastopoulos said. It was raining when he painted so he actually used a hair drier to be able to continue painting.

Sevastopoulos said the aim was to show a message that did not depend on knowledge of the myth, but applies to any setting.

"Greg Brown wanted to combine street with myth," she said. "The woman could be any woman off the street. She is perhaps the older version of Ariadne returning or perhaps a person stepping off the street into this ride."

The mural also shows dolphins jumping over the woman and Minotaur because dolphins are part of the murals of Crete, she said. They are replicas of the dolphins depicted on a famous ancient Knossos, Crete, mural called "The Dolphins."

Jimmy Simmons and Karen Rudolph chose a mural depicting a message with history behind it on their garage door in Los Altos.

The mural is a cutout of a brown bear-head and the background painted in latex. It depicts Simmons' totem. Simmons is a northwest Native American who belongs to Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Oregon.

The totem is a symbol of a person's clan in the Native American culture, Rudolph said. Now people have their own individual totems.

"It is kind of like a spiritual metaphor," she added. "And when you put up a totem, you have to have a party. It is part of the tradition."

Strollers on Middlefield Road in Midtown can easily spot a mural of a woman holding a baby, painted by Palo Alto fine artist Geri McGilvray in acrylic. She made the art Christmas '09 as both a Madonna-and-Child representation and a representation of herself holding her grandson, when he was a baby. She made it with the aim of all mothers being able to relate.

"I kept it very abstract for all the mothers to be able to identify with it," she said. "The message is love."

She said she puts a lot of thought into her artwork, and for this mural, she used a photo of her grandchild when he was a baby to replicate it onto the canvas. A neighbor also helped her lay the canvas on the garage and staple it to the wall for her to paint. It took her three days to finish.

McGilvray said the pose is the child looking toward the future with some enthusiasm but also apprehension, and the mother showing some concern. This pose presented some challenges because artistically it was difficult to convey.

"It is a metaphor for Madonna and Child but also a metaphor for any mother and child."

READ MORE ONLINE

For more Home and Real Estate news, visit www.paloaltoonline.com/real_estate.

Editorial Intern Mike Lata can be e-mailed at mlata@paweekly.com.

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