Bay Point mural project to bring illustrator’s book to life
By Lou Fancher
Hope is a color regardless of the shade of paint used in the murals of award-winning Mexican-American illustrator and muralist Rafael López.
The community-based projects inspired by his homeland and muralists such as Carlos Merida and Diego Rivera originate in San Diego. There, López sought to transform his edgy, urban neighborhood into a safe, welcoming oasis through the power of people coming together to turn a barren wall into a timeless, vibrant expression of growth, diversity, migration, acceptance, imagination and freedom.
López brings his most recent project to the East Bay courtesy of the Bay Point and Pittsburg libraries and a Book-to-Action program sponsored by the California Center for the Book. With support through a corporate sponsorship provided to the library from the office of Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover, Ginny Golden says it’s the largest project undertaken during her seven years serving as senior community library manager. The approximately $13,000 budget covers, among other items, López’s travel and design work, 23 gallons of paint and related supplies and 100 books that will be given free of charge to participants at the May 12 mural-completion event.
“This process began long ago, when his picture book, ‘Maybe Something Beautiful,’ was just coming out,” Golden says.
The book, published in 2016 and written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell with art by López, draws from real life to tell the story of young artists whose colorful murals create large-scale change
“I’d been teasing Rafael that I wanted him to paint my house,” Golden says. “He said we could do something else, and we started talking about the community mural.”
As the culminating event in the libraries’ monthlong celebration of literacy and culture, the 48-by-12-foot mural will be drawn, painted and permanently located at Shore Acres Elementary School (351 Marina Road in Bay Point).
“The real joy of this project is that we’re taking the library out to the community,” says Golden. “We’re taking this book and bringing it to life.”
After driving “all over Bay Point and Pittsburg in search of the perfect wall,” Golden says the location offers adequate size, security and accessibility — and a community that will appreciate and maintain the art.
López, Golden and a team of local artists and volunteers are drawing the mural’s graphic images during the four-day period before the five-hour public “Pick Up a Paint Brush” session. “They’ll also paint the upper half so we don’t have kids on 10-foot ladders,” says Golden.
Expecting close to 300 people at the final event, she says Pittsburg resident and artist Kristen Cumings, teens in Cumings’ Pittsburg Teen Mural Program and a flank of volunteers will assist.
López, in an interview from his San Diego home, is glad there’ll be help on hand but insists the images and process are designed for simplicity.
“Someone who’s never held a paint brush in their life can come out and join in,” he says.
The bold, graphic shapes are universal, causing language differences to evaporate. Based on mid-20th-century art, the images convey positive messages and include small surprises. Flowers are a subliminal expression demonstrating that good things come from caring for the Earth. Birds represent freedom and also human migration.
“People move to new communities, and we want to welcome them,” he explains. Moons and suns show passage of time; plants suggest growth. “But I might put a plant on a face to show that people can change and grow too.”
Perhaps most directly, books that open like birds in flight represent imagination set free by literature, and hands that merge are visual expressions of friendship and tolerance that join all races, genders, ethnicities and generations.
Especially in today’s divided world, where relationships between people and countries are fragile, López says his art and two books coming out this year (“The Day You Begin” and “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands”) send a message to kids that it’s OK to be different. “The kink of their hair, their funny accents, the color of their skin — finding the friendly person who says it’s OK is the story. I want to do books that are significant.”
The Earth and society itself, he suggests, are vulnerable. “If we don’t get along, it will be devastating.”
Which is why the 17 community mural projects he has completed that stretch across the United States and Mexico carry lasting rewards for artists and communities.
“It’s not about a pretty picture: It’s about coming together in the outdoors, talking to each other during the days of creation and beyond. It’s about human potential.”