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Muralists and street artists are the tricksters of public art. They play with scale, making familiar objects giant. They slip in visual puns and sly references, simultaneously secret and bold as a howl. They create monuments to people and moments they deem heroic. From hidden alleys to busy streets, they highlight San Diego's unique landscape and show off the city's creativity. Follow a trail through San Diego's colorful street art to get a glimpse into the destination's diverse neighborhoods.
ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station was once a Navy training center, welcoming the first class of recruits to its Spanish Colonial Revival buildings in 1923. If you think that "military" and "artists" sets up an interesting contradiction, you're right. Barracks are now art studios, galleries and museums, surrounded by acres of restaurants, shops, parks and a golf course.
In one of the newest additions to the scene, Victor Ving transformed an old pump house into an enormous vintage postcard incorporating the past and present of Liberty Station, with a cameo appearance by Ving and his photographer girlfriend, Lisa Beggs. Can you spot them?
Where: 2875 Dewey Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
Since 2010, the "Murals of La Jolla", a joint project of the La Jolla Community Foundation and The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, has brought enormous works from heavy hitters like John Baldessari, Terry Allen, Catherine Opie and Mark Bradford to the already scenic seaside village. One of the local stars featured in the collection is Kelsey Brookes, who contributes his psychedelic "One Pointed Attention." Visitors respond playfully to the pulsating waves - but Brookes says his intent was actually to create "a two-dimensional representation of meditation." Snap your selfie, and then take a moment to pause, focus and let your eye follow the path of his brush. With a refreshed perspective, go on to visit fifteen other murals within walking distance.
Where: 7835 Ivanhoe Ave, San Diego, CA 92037
Chicano Park is a cultural prize for the story of how it came to be, but it's also a treasure from an art perspective. Roughly 80 artworks fill seven acres of parkland, reaching high into the sky on the concrete pylons supporting the Coronado Bay Bridge. The first were painted in 1973, and approximately two dozen were restored in 2011 and 2012. Today, artists continue to expand outward, adding new murals in various spots around the neighborhood. Go in the daytime to appreciate the vibrant colors, and stop for tacos afterwards at Las Cuatro Milpas, where locals line up early to place their lunch orders.
Where: National Ave & S Evans St, San Diego, CA 92101
In the fall of 2016, San Diego's Cohort Collective teamed up with Hawaii-based PangeaSeed Foundation, the music festival KAABOO, Surfrider Foundation and several national and international artists including Askew, Lauren YS, Aaron Glasson and Persue. They installed 18 murals designed to raise environmental issues by "taking the oceans to the streets." From Encinitas to Imperial Beach, they created poignant and passionate statements on overfishing, whale and dolphin captivity, and ocean acidification. In Hillcrest, the back side of Artist & Craftsman Supply provided the spot for muralist Jet Martinez. Soak in the lush forms and delicate tracery evoking Mexican embroidery, but take note of the message: Pesticides used in commercial flower production end up in the sea, damaging reef ecosystems.
Where: 3804 Fourth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
South of City Heights, one of San Diego's most ethnically diverse communities, is the neighborhood of Azalea Park, home to artists and other creative types. Several years ago the residents created the city's first water conservation garden, tucked into the southeast corner of Azalea Community Park. Agaves and lavender complement whimsical sculptures, while brickwork paths and benches encourage lingering. Venture a few steps further south and you'll see the latest artwork by Gloria Muriel, known as "Glow," whose art can be found throughout San Diego and Tijuana. "Year of the Rooster" is on a mural-covered wall that wraps around a house, and was a collaboration with her partner, photographer Alex H. Banach, and muralist Michael Amorillo. Muriel, who frequently incorporates nature into her paintings, says "Rooster" reminds us to wake up and pay attention to what's happening in the world. (Fun fact: It's also inspired by the homeowner's chickens.) Before you leave, swing by 4133 Poplar Street, a community center known for it's eye-popping street art.
Where: Alley southeast of Azalea Community Park - 2596 Violet Street, San Diego, CA 92105
Adams Avenue is the kind of place where dive bars and yoga studios happily coexist, and “pet-friendly” is assumed. The avenue connects three neighborhoods — University Heights, Normal Heights and Kensington. Normal Heights is the most bohemian, earning the nickname “Abnormal Heights.” Lestat's Coffee House is a popular meeting spot and landmark. It might hold the record for having more local artists on the walls (and in the comfy chairs) than anywhere in town. A few blocks away, on the side of Dink's Barbershop, is a mural that artist Travis Crosby painted as a tribute to Prince. Across from it is a collaboration between Crosby and his childhood friend, Kevin Lindholm, who goes by WaistKnot. Continue west on Adams Avenue and you’ll see a Crosby mural of Jimi Hendrix. It’s on the side of a building that holds a tattoo shop and guitar repair. Did we mention “bohemian”?
Where: 3215 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Most of the Barrio Logan arts action takes place on the west side of I-5, around Chicano Park. That footprint expanded with the opening of Bread & Salt, located on the east side of the freeway. Experimental galleries and artist’s studios are housed in a rugged industrial space, built in 1891 as a bread factory. The 40-foot flour silo provides the backdrop for the latest mural by San Diego/Tijuana artist Paola Villaseñor, who goes by Panca. “La calors” (“The heat”) honors the neighborhood ice cream vendors, or paleteros. Having just finished a political piece, Panca wanted to reconnect with joyful aspects of barrio life and modern Chicana identity. Using a deceptively simple palette, she reveals artistic influences that range from the para-surrealist painter Remedios Varo Uranga to Mr. Rogers.
Where: 1955 Julian Ave, San Diego, CA 92113
North Park is one of the area's most well known arts districts, anchored by the galleries and shops along Ray Street, alternative art space Art Produce, gallery/retail hybrids like Pigment and Visual, and live music and theater at the Observatory North Park. And from buildings to utility boxes, it has a wealth of street art. Local favorites include a 50-foot pink dinosaur by Mark Paul Deren, who goes by Madsteez, on the north end of Ray Street, and a group of murals on the side of art gallery/studio space The Studio Door. These happy kids are posing in front of a piece by artistic duo Monty Montgomery and Jason Feather, who call themselves Kreashun.
Where: 3750 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104
Ealey, Konecki and Burke are part of the Cohort Collective, seven prolific muralists who've created some of the most distinctive images around town. This artwork presented an unusual challenge: collaborative painting in a stairwell. The artists had to use scaffolding at various heights, constantly maneuvering themselves into position while layering over each other's work. Konecki called it “painting while on a StairMaster.” Burke contributed the graffiti-style tags, Ealey did the female characters and Konecki added the massive birds. The end result fits the sophisticated vibe and boisterous attitude of The Oxford Social Club, located underneath the Pendry Hotel, a new highlight in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Where: 435 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Another fresh spot in the Gaslamp Quarter is the renovated Horton Plaza Park at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue. Café tables offer a sunny place to kick back and watch kids play on the grass or romp in the interactive water feature. The 53,000-square-foot plaza includes a 1910 fountain designed by architect Irving Gill, along with an Arts Tix booth, food kiosks and San Diego's largest mural. It's by artist Kelsey Montague, whose #WhatLiftsYou series went wildly viral after Taylor Swift posed with one. Catch your moment in the spotlight now because the artwork won't be around forever. (Tip: There's another Montague piece inside Horton Plaza by the Jimbo's, and one at the Headquarters at Seaport Village.)
Where: 900 Fourth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
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