I met Casey Walpert at the Bug Jar where he was one of the original owners. He hired me to paint a mural in a building on Alexander Street, one that he was refurbishing and turning into a Mexican restaurant. I had been in the building years ago when it was called Chez Jean Pierre. By mid November 1999 Casey had the walls ready for a mural. He was planning on opening in a month. Karrie Laughton, who owns Lux on South Avenue, took some photos when the project was finished. And I documented the project with some photos as I went along.
Mex Mural In Progress 1999
NOVEMBER 22 1999
The space I was given to work with seemed awkward at first. It starts on the ground floor on your left as you step inside and it continues up the stairs around a round corner and on for another ten, twelve feet or so. At times the wall is 18 feet high and it’s over thirty feet long. There is no way you can see the whole wall at one time and you never get a chance to see much of it from any distance at all. But I love the space now and it has been a lot of fun painting here as all the work goes on around me. Casey went across the street today to buy some of the old booths out of the Rio Bamba which is changing hands. Robin has picked the colors for the walls – maybe twenty different colors. It’s going to be festive for sure. Casey was shooting for November and then December 15th but now he’s talking about a January 5, 2000 launch. I’m praying I won’t be up on this scaffold when people sit down for burritos.
It took me almost three days, four pencils and two erasers to draw the thing. I tried to tie it all together with six Mexican band members working their way up the stairs. I painted the background first with Peggi’s help. You may not be able to get this view once the etched glass goes in this opening.
That’s Diego and his wife Frida under the Day of the Dead figures. I based the drawing on Frida’s portrait of her and her husband.
At the top of the stairs I’ve drawn a few Hispanic gang members (to get a bit of the flavor of the Bug Jar) and a low rider. I’m going to try to put Casey behind the wheel. And that’s Cortez with an native woman in the upper left hand corner.
NOVEMBER 24, 1999
Once the background was laid in I started with the monkey (who Casey called “Rico”) and then the orange tree. I might try to get away without painting any branches.
The Mexican women with her child will nod to Casey’s wife, Robin, and their son, Griffen.
DECEMBER 3, 1999
I painted the first of the six band members today. I plan on painting the other five in order as you head up the stairs. My father worked some more on the flowers today. I should get a shot of them too. (I eventually changed the color of this drum and sort of fixed the perspective.)
DECEMBER 4, 1999
DECEMBER 5, 1999
I finished the second band member today. I have to do at least one figure a day to be done by the opening!
Half the band is done. Kind of an unmelodic band at this point.
December 12, 1999
I finished this trumpet player today and Peggi touched up the white spots where the figures and the ground didn’t come together and then she started on the mescal plant. Tim Poland from Nod was finishing the floor downstairs and the fumes got so strong we were both getting dizzy. We left in a hurry. I realized the band members’ skin tones are getting darker as I go along. The first guy back at the bottom of the stairs almost looks like a gringo by comparison. The six band guys are done!
December 14, 1999
I painted the mescal plant and Diego and Frida today. Casey’s sister sent up a Virgin Of Guadalupe statue. We put it on a paint can above the painted plant. It’s the right idea but kind of wimpy. Still need a dramatic centerpiece for this niche. I had to take it down and put the scaffold back up.
I finished the hat on the Day of the Dead woman above Frida. Paulie, who has been working for Casey, picked a dark red for her hat. That worked. And then I did these two heads. There is a resemblance anyway. Frida looks a little young and I may have exaggerated Diego’s chin.
I finished the artists the next day.
December 16, 1999
I was having a hard time with the flowers until my father, Leo Dodd, stopped by and bailed me out. He’s been there a couple afternoons now working on those flowers.
I almost finished the Day of the Dead figures before leaving for Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with Peggi’s family. I came back from LA to a pile of 4D work and wasn’t able to get back to the mural until December 2.
DECEMBER 3, 1999
The mural is starting to take shape now. The section above the stairs is just about done and I’m hoping to finish Cortez and his lady friend tomorrow. They are around the corner to the right. At that point I can take the scaffold down and finish the rest from the floor or a chair.
December 21, 1999
I painted Emiliano Zapata today. His boots got a little big and look more like waders than riding boots so I’ll have to fix that. Cortez, the Spanish conqueror, basically raped his way across Mexico. These two are are often shown together in Mexican folk art. They symbolize the mixing of the European and Indian culture that is Mexico today. This section, as you turn the corner on the stairs coming up to the dining area, is done at this point. Still undecided on the gang guys. I took an informal pool of the guys working here and they seem to be leaning toward keeping them in. I sort of am too at this point.
Peggi helped me paint out the gang guys. They had to go. I thought about putting Subcomandante Marcos in this spot with his ski mask and mobile phone or maybe a banner that says “Somos Una Gente”. I like the way that sounds.
January 10, 1999
I had 4D work to attend to and hadn’t been down to the restaurant in weeks. Luckily they are running behind and now say they will be open February 2. I finished Frida and her chubby hubby today.
My father finished the flowers on Friday afternoon. It was really cold in the restaurant. Casey has only one of the heaters working and this spot by the front door is the coldest. I’m talking like in the 40’s. The flowers look great! Casey commented that the flower woman didn’t look too friendly. She does look pretty dour. I could lighten up her frown lines. She is based on a photo I took in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead and she really wasn’t very happy.
February 1, 2000
It felt good to get back at this project. Thank God Mex isn’t open yet. I have been so busy with 4D work that weeks go by before I get to stop back here. But food is being delivered Thursday and the sign is up out front so I should be closing in on this thing. Casey set up a little propane heater behind me while I painted the flower lady. I was standing so close to it that I burnt a hole in my pants.
I stopped in to see if Casey had made a decision about this upside down bathtub of a nook or niche or portico or whatever it is. This statue from Animas Traders on Clinton Avenue of the Virgin of Guadalupe is almost perfect. I put it up on an upside down drywall pail. So the Virgin is in and I will have to come up with something to put in the space where I removed the dudes just to the right of the trumpet player.
February 5, 2000
On Sunday I finally made a decision on what would go into the space left by the gang members. There is a legend about how the Aztecs picked the site for their city. They were to look for an eagle sitting on a cactus with a serpent in its mouth. This legend is depicted on the Mexican flag. It took a pile of books that I borrowed from my father to get enough information to paint it. I wanted to have the eagle about to land instead of perched as it is on the flag. Peggi painted the pink background.
The dry run went vey smoothly. The food was tremendous. So they open the doors on Wednesday. I had to finish the mural this weekend and I did. Peggi helped me finish the background and clear up the little white spots of bare wall left between the colors. I changed the color of the snare drum downstairs.
After much discussion the Mex management chose to paint the walls surrounding the mural purple. A good choice! Mex is “good to go” as Casey says.