Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Group project

Community artists work together to create Kenai Art Center mural

Each year, a group of artists come together at the Kenai Art Center to produce a mural that wraps around the entire gallery; this year’s mural debuted on Thursday, and will be exhibited through December.

Work from 24 local artists is on display, covering three of the four walls in the main gallery space. There is also further art being displayed in the center of the room. Aside from one split in the middle to accommodate the passage to the back areas of the art center, each piece is presented as part of one whole, with no space to separate them.

The subject matter is diverse, including a haunted house, depictions of a wintery landscape, forests, dragons, portraits, abstractions and an octopus illuminated with a black light.

Unlike other exhibitions, artists working on the mural do the painting in the art center. This meant that instead of preparing work in private spaces to be brought for exhibition, the artists spent considerable time working in the same space; sharing ideas, materials and company.

Marco Mendoza, who painted “Symptoms of Vegetation,” said he mainly does abstract art, specifically “street-style abstract.” His piece shows a woman on a colorful background, the top of her head made of flowers.

“I purposefully did it different than what I normally make because I don’t really have a style,” Mendoza said. “I just get inspired by a bunch of different artists and a bunch of different things and I find things and go ‘Oh, I want to try that.’”

Mendoza said the name didn’t mean too much to him, he chose it because he found it was ironic.

“Why do these things have to have like a deep-rooted meaning?” he said. “I just create. That’s all I do. I just throw stuff up there and I don’t choose if people like it.”

Abbey Ulen produced the only untitled piece in the show, depicting a clothesline with patterned cloth in what appear to be gray and stormy skies.

The piece is based on a photograph Ulen has been holding on to for a long time, she said.

“When I had seen the space that I was provided in the mural show, it felt like it just needed to be painted there,” she said.

Ulen said it was left untitled because that lends to the viewer putting themselves into it.

“They can make up their own story when they view the piece, put their own kind of title to it or invoke a feeling that they feel when they see it.”

Charlotte Coots has two pieces in the show.

She said the first, “The Artist Advertises a Show,” was based on a black-and-white photo she found. The piece developed significantly because of the collaborative nature of the mural. She said she discussed the nature of the man with other artists working in the space, wondering who he was in life.

Coots said she began drawing the man in more subdued colors, but found that he was getting lost between two much brighter images on either side.

“So I just bumped up the color,” she said. “Then I decided it would be great to put a sign in his hand and have him advertise the art show.”

The other piece Coots did for the show was “She Rides Her Story Like a Cloud,” which depicts a little girl sitting in a wedding dress much too big for her, floating on a piece of paper.

On the paper are “the words that she would say or think about things in her life,” Coots explained.

Using written text is something Coots has done several times in her work. A piece she submitted to the Juried Art Show at the art center last month featured a similar motif, and she said it’s something that she’s been exploring in preparation for a show she is doing in June.

Working in a room with a group of other artists is something that Mendoza said he initially found “nerve-wracking.” He said he always works in private, even his family don’t get to see his work until its done.

This year was Mendoza’s second as part of the mural project, and he said he didn’t know what he was getting himself into the first time.

“It was way out of my comfort zone, but I found a lot of cool people,” he said. Coming back to do it for the second time this year was “even better.”

The value of the collaborative experience is something Ulen and Coots both echoed.

Ulen said she participates in the mural show because it’s a great experience.

“Working together with other artists and other like-minded people; collaborating and creating, it’s just a good time,” she said. “I meet new people and learn new techniques from other artists.”

Ulen said, to accommodate different schedules for all of the artists, the Kenai Art Center was made open and available for long hours for a full week prior to the opening. She said it worked out where there were different groups of artists; morning folks, afternoon folks, night time folks and weekend folks.

“It was really exciting to kind of see the process without seeing the process,” Ulen said. Each time she would come in to work on her piece, others around the room would have developed in her absence.

Coots said she’s been participating in the mural show for several years, since being invited in 2018.

“I just keep getting invited back. One of my favorite things about it is actually being with all those other artists while everybody else is creating too. We play off each other’s work,” Coots said.

She said that collaborative spirit is what makes all of the individual murals one project. Though there are two dozen artists at work, each is represented in the finished product; ideas and paint were shared, no one completed their work in isolation.

“Every time I do the mural show, it almost is like a little motivation.” Coots said. “To be around a bunch of other artists … just inspires that creativity again.”

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Theresa Ritter, an artist with a piece in the exhibition, speaks to an attendee of the Mural 2022 opening reception at Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Theresa Ritter, an artist with a piece in the exhibition, speaks to an attendee of the Mural 2022 opening reception at Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 exhibition views this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 exhibition views this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Eileen Bryson views the mural during the opening reception for Mural 2022 at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Eileen Bryson views the mural during the opening reception for Mural 2022 at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Charlotte Coots speaks in front of “She Rides Her Story Like a Cloud,” one of her pieces, at the Mural 2022 opening reception at Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Charlotte Coots speaks in front of “She Rides Her Story Like a Cloud,” one of her pieces, at the Mural 2022 opening reception at Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Jason Ramirez speaks in front of his piece “Got Space?” to attendees of the Mural 2022 opening reception at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Jason Ramirez speaks in front of his piece “Got Space?” to attendees of the Mural 2022 opening reception at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees of the opening reception for the Mural 2022 Exhibition view this year’s mural at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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