In the midst of the traffic on Mission Road, a bearded man with long hair peaking out from a sun hat, paint-splattered clothes and a neon safety vest, stands with a calm expression. Art Mortimer, brushes in hand, faces a 15-foot wall topped with an iconic Alhambra arch. His task: to create a mural depicting the San Gabriel Valley of a century ago.
Mortimer is a prolific painter who has produced hundreds of murals throughout California including the one on the Utilities building near Garfield and Main. For this project he was given an illustration of a scenic San Gabriel Valley. It’s a bucolic image of the mountains and lush fields. But to Mortimer it was a bit drab, so he added some details such as a people and a trolley car.
“Well, there was the original artist’s idea, but I did more to it, I did that,” Mortimer said, pointing out jalopies, a trolley, farmers and the San Gabriel Mission. “That’s mine right there.”
The mural was funded with $60,000 from the Arts in Public Places Fund (each developer who builds in Alhambra is required to pay into the fund, which is specifically for the arts in the city.) Half went to the artist and half to contractors to erect the wall and the arches, which are built out of high-density foam. the project is an ambitious one for a mural on a busy highway.
Assisting Mortimer are artists Kwanwu Yu and Hillary Wooton, both of them also splattered with paints and wearing the bright safety vests.
“This is all a learning for me right now,” said Yu, a graduate of L.A. Trade Tech.
Before becoming involved with art Yu was studying engineering and Wooton worked in illustrations.
Wooton, a Loyola Marymount graduate, likes that she’s doing something creative and new everyday. “Especially, with the stages to this, it’s not the same thing day in day out,” she said.
The project has had a few bumps along the way. Before Mortimer even started, he noticed that there was something amiss with the wall. “They built the wall two feet too high, so I had to adjust the artwork to fit,” said Mortimer, who has more than 30 years of experience. “There’s always problems when you have a drawing on paper and then you blow it up and something doesn’t look right, it’s just the nature of it.”
Mortimer and his crew will be working well into the holidays extending their project with green vines, painted onto the wall. (Real vines wouldn’t take to the wall, as it is too steep and the sidewalk too narrow for any type of vegetation).
There’s a lot of work to be done from this point, including an inscription and another coat of paint, but for Mortimer the real test will be further in the future.
“Hopefully it’ll last, that’s one of the things when doing a mural,” he said. “You never know how it’ll hold up.”