Curtis Gutierrez stands at Hull Street and Cowardin Avenue examining a woman sitting under a tree. Her arms have recently grown and shrunk and her face has changed, but finally, he says, she is just right. She has a lot of work to do as the one representational figure anchoring what is otherwise an explosion of colors and symbolic images that make up Art 180's latest mural.
Gutierrez, a muralist, leads a team of student artists completing the project through the nonprofit that brings arts programming to youth in challenging situations. Taking up the entire 1,800-square-foot, south-facing wall of Snake Oil Records, this is one of the largest the students have created. “Quite a hero wall,” Gutierrez says, surveying the work. “We pumped this thing with a lot of ideas and poetry.”
A psychedelic tree stands atop a tangle of roots, with planet Earth in the background and various human forms in the middle ground. The colors in the mural have painted Gutierrez's fingernails garish shades of green and yellow and settled in clumps in his arm hair. He moved to Richmond from Los Angeles 10 years ago.
In California he dressed sets for movies including “Ed Wood,” “Hocus Pocus” and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” with Mel Brooks. He married a Southern belle and had two children, and when the charm of raising a family in downtown Los Angeles wore off, they came here.
Nine high-school students from a mix of ethnic backgrounds make up the painting team. They started off the school year in self-segregated huddles on opposite ends of the room, but over the course of the year-long program they've gelled into a group of friends.
The mural will change over time too, Gutierrez says. Passersby will become more familiar with its nuances, and wind and rain will chip away and smooth the paint into a more settled state.
An admirer from a passing car shouts his approval. Gutierrez does a two-handed overhead wave, shouting “kids from George Wythe and Huguenot High did this.”