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Early birds

Local artist David Early brings first mural to Wrigley portion of Pacific Avenue.

Artists+David+Early+%28left%29+and+Kellie+Cracker+%28above+right%29+work+on+a+mural+at+1957+Pacific+Ave.+in+Wrigley.+
Artists David Early (left) and Kellie Cracker (above right) work on a mural at 1957 Pacific Ave. in Wrigley.

Artists David Early (left) and Kellie Cracker (above right) work on a mural at 1957 Pacific Ave. in Wrigley.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Artists David Early (left) and Kellie Cracker (above right) work on a mural at 1957 Pacific Ave. in Wrigley.

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The stretch of Pacific Avenue that runs through the Wrigley neighborhood will soon have its first outdoor mural, now that local artist David Early and two assistants are completing a 1,800-square-foot painting at 1957 Pacific Ave., where the cannabis dispensary The Station is located.

The business, which is a former police station, is among the handful of Long Beach marijuana retail establishments that recently transitioned from being strictly medicinal to now also providing cannabis to customers who use it recreationally.

Last April, Early, who is a resident of Wrigley, finished a 20-foot-by-30-foot oil-paint mural inside The Station, depicting the interior of a train depot, in honor of the dispensary’s name.

“The one on the inside was more about the waiting process,” Early said. “That’s why there was the train station– people waiting to board the train– and waiting for medicinal [cannabis] to become recreational. So, we sort of tied this in. Right when it became recreational is when I sort of began this whole thing. The external mural is really a mural of freedom, with the cage opening up.”

The recent painting, which features various birds having just been released from a cage, is outdoors, a work environment that brings new considerations, challenges and opportunities. One aspect that fits all three categories is the community that will see the mural on a daily basis, as they ride or walk past, en route to and from work, school and shopping, Early said.

He explained that the mural’s development, which included neighborhood engagement, began seven months ago. 

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Artist David Early is creating what will be the first mural along the Wrigley portion of Pacific Avenue.

“We met with the community to get their approval on this,” he said. “Whenever you do an external mural this size, it’s really nice to have community backing. So, we brought in a lot of community members. We all sat down, and we talked about it. We went through, like, two months of preparation for this.”

Originally, Early wanted lots of birds fluttering and scattering about– as a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film– with the creatures rather blurred out. 

“But the community thought, ‘Well, that might not work too well with the children,’ even though this is not an establishment for children,” Early said. “So, we thought, ‘Well, because there are a lot of children on this street, let’s go ahead and make it a little more family friendly.’”

To do so, Early said he and his team made the birds more realistic and included an array of avian species– to represent the local diversity of cultures– as well as a colorful one to symbolize the “feral parrot issue in Long Beach.”

“Now they’re in the Wrigley area, and I hear them every day,” he said. “So, they come by, and they’re wild. So, we thought, ‘Why don’t we go ahead and throw some parrots in there, to add to the mixture of the birds?’” 

The team also included a dove and rendered the birds more detailed as they fly farther from the open cage.

“As they fly directly out of the cage, they’re a little more blurred,” Early explained. “So, they’re defining themselves as they’re on the road to freedom.”

Considering his latest public art piece is bathed in a rather sophisticated palette of blacks, grays and whites, Early says his hopes are that the mural will draw viewers in subtly, as opposed to an overly colorful painting that quickly commands interest but just as swiftly loses the viewer’s attention. 

Courtesy David Early
An early mock-up for David Early’s latest mural

“I wanted it to be a little more muted so that you’ll remember it as you drive by and want to take a second look as you drive by a second time, and a third look and a fourth look, and to continue to look at it and think about it,” he said. “A lot of the comments that I’m getting from passersby on the street is that they feel it’s sort of a dream, which is a really great compliment to me, because that means I’m doing my job.”

Acquiring and implementing the feedback of others is familiar to Early, since he has completed numerous commissions, and having the neighborhood invest in the mural will protect it, he said. 
“I trust them. A lot of these people have lived here over 20 years,” Early said. “So, they’ve seen a lot of transformation. I want [the mural] to be safe. I want it to be guarded, and I want them to be proud of what they have in their community.”

In the last few weeks, he’s had plenty of time to interact with those residents.
“It’s really interesting working [outside], as opposed to working on the interior, where it’s private,” he said. “I did that one [as a] graveyard shift, from 12 to 8 in the morning. This one is a different story; it takes a little more time because you are out there dealing with the public, and, of course, I’m listening to everyone. I want to. I want to find out what they like and do not like.”

Early and his crew– local artists Loren Comfort and Kellie Cracker– began working on the 100-foot-long mural the last week of September. Because the wall’s surface is quite rough, he had a brick portion of it recoated as stucco, a substance he’s had to learn to work with, since he usually paints on canvas or a smoother wall surface. He also used an ages-old technique to transfer the conceptual image, to scale, onto the large wall– a grid. Furthermore, he forewent the use of a projector or spray paints, items commonly employed in contemporary murals.

“There’s a transformation happening here in Wrigley, so I want it to be more of a fine-art mural than a trendy mural,” he said. “That’s why I’m using traditional techniques. None of this is sprayed. I use no aerosol. The entire mural is painted with a two-inch brush. I did apply the background with a roller, but more so than anything else, it’s a very, very traditional, hand-painted mural that was applied by grit– old, Michelangelo method. Nothing is projected.”

Creating lasting images on such a large scale can also be time-consuming and physically demanding, he said.

Additionally, Early teaches art part-time, leaving little room for any personal work while his schedule is so booked. However, he’d prefer to focus all his creative energy into his client’s work anyway.

“I don’t work on any personal stuff when I work on a project this size. I think it’s a little unfair because [the client] wants all my energy, and that’s how I maintain my energy,” he said.
“Subconsciously, I think about this mural a lot, while I’m taking a shower, while I’m walking the dog. It’s not a big life investment; it’s maybe a couple of months out of my life. But that mural, I hope, will be there for a very long time. For me, that’s worth it. I’ll get back to my own personal work– there’s always time. That’s the beauty of being a fine artist– you don’t die out at 30 years old. Some of the best artists are 60, 70 years old, and it becomes a lifestyle.”

Cracker said helping Early on the painting has been enjoyable, particularly when it comes to getting that immediate feedback from locals.

“It’s been a lot of fun engaging with the community while working on the mural,” she said. “All of the comments have been enthusiastic and positive. Some people will yell things like ‘It’s beautiful!’ It’s a great feeling to be a part of this project.”

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