By Martin Jones Westlin | SDUN Arts Reporter
Local artist Blair Thornley said she probably would have been painting wall murals in the North Park of a century ago—which would have left lots of time for sing-alongs and stuff, since 1911 North Park encompassed a whopping three city blocks. Time and growth have swallowed those boundaries into the neighborhood’s three-and-a-half square miles, which accommodate almost 40,000 people and one colossal commitment to the performing and visual arts. The Ray@Night art exhibit program pulls in upwards of 1,500 people every weekend; the restored Stephen & Mary Birch North Park Theatre is a city anchor for lyric opera and other events.
Enter Thornley’s latest project, an unlikely combination of form and function that city officials hail as a marker for the neighborhood’s artistic temperament. The Art on the Garage project includes 16 oversized line drawings spanning the North Park Parking Garage’s five tiers—they reflect artists hard at work in their particular discipline, like the ballerina with the overstated curve to her back and the befuddled chamber orchestra sitting down to play.
Animals, like the violin-playing cat, have their day as well. And the car theme is never far away.
At a Jan. 19 news conference, Mayor Jerry Sanders said the project, a year in the making, underscores North Park’s reputation. “It’s projects like this,” he said, “that continue to solidify North Park as one of the leaders for art and culture in San Diego.”
Councilman Todd Gloria, whose District 3 jurisdiction includes North Park, hailed the work as a reflection of the neighborhood’s commitment to redevelopment.
“This will always be a priority to [North Park],” he said, “because we’re unique. We want redevelopment, but we want it on our terms. And that revolves around art and culture.”
The city’s redevelopment agency spent $70,000 on the project. Expenses included payment to a Los Angeles firm that enlarged the original drawings. Thornley, a Princeton, N.J. native and a 16-year North Park resident, accepted no commission for her work as a goodwill gesture to the neighborhood.
The $14 million garage structure, bound by 29th and 30th streets and North Park Way, was completed in 2006. It accommodates more than 300 vehicles over five floors and sits atop 15,000 square feet of retail space. And for Thornley’s part, it required a different spin on her line-drawing expertise. Her illustrations often include generous use of color, from warm pastels to whimsical greens and pinks. The garage works are mostly devoid of color—but Thornley had an answer.
“The garage,” she explained, “has a lot of different tonality and surfaces, like the brickwork, to it already. I didn’t want the drawings to interfere with that by using too much color. My line drawings are tricky—they already have such odd shapes, and I didn’t want those shapes to compete with the existing structure.”
Thornley hopes her methods yield the appropriate reaction. The project, she said at the news conference, “Should be something that interacts with people as they walk by, makes them think and, mostly, makes them smile.”
For more information on Thornley and her work, visit blairthornley.com.
Martin Jones Westlin is the editor and publisher of the theater-intensive Words Are Not Enough website at wordsarenotenough.info.com.