Going public: Local 14-year-old wins opportunity to paint one of Long Beach’s utility boxes.

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Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Annalise Mirsec, 14, works on her mural on an electrical box at the corner of Nieto Avenue and Appian Way Monday morning. It is believed Mirsec is thus far the youngest artist to paint one of Long Beach’s boxes.

It’s a mark of achievement when an artist can make the jump from cultivating a frequently complimented sketchbook to actually creating a lasting art piece that anyone in the public can view.

Bixby Knolls resident Annalise Mirsec can now count herself among those individuals. She is among the Long Beach artists who have been able to put their creative touches on one of the city’s many electric boxes– and she’s only 14.

For a teenager who’s never shown her work outside of middle-school art class, however, the task of imbuing a more than 30-square-foot metal rectangular prism with a design that’s at once eye-catching, appealing and fitting to its environment can be a challenging one, not only logistically but socially. The box Annalise is painting is not only situated at a busy corner, it’s located just outside Rogers Middle School, where she recently completed her 8th-grade year.

“I’m proud of it, but it makes me nervous because I feel like some kids are going to be like, ‘Oh, that looks great,’ and other kids might be like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t look too good.’ I don’t know,” Annalise said. “So, that’s why I think, when it’s finished, it needs to be absolutely perfect.”

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Bixby Knolls resident and high-school freshman Annalise Mirsec paints a utility box in Belmont Shore after placing 1st in a “Paint the Box” art contest.

When asked if she tends to be a perfectionist with her art work, Annalise said, “Definitely. That’s why it’s taking so long!”

The young artist has painted the background colors and sketched most of the features of her design, including a large tree and several types of sea life, including numerous fish, jellyfish and seaweed.

“It’s actually pretty fun,” she said. “I’ve never painted anything this big. I typically just paint on regular paper, but I like doing it. I think it’s really interesting, and it’s my first time doing it, so it’s definitely an experience. It makes me a little nervous because people drive by all the time, and it’s kind of like they’re watching me do it, and, I don’t know, it just feels weird because it’s not done yet.”

Annalise placed 1st in 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price’s “Paint the Box” art contest last year, earning her a $300 art-supply gift card and the opportunity to bring her submitted design to life on the utility box. The contest was open to students at Rogers, Jefferson Middle School and Wilson High School, as well as to all 6th- to 12th-grade students living in the 3rd District.

Lisa West, director of Programs and Events for Price’s office, said that, to her knowledge, Annalise is thus far the youngest person to paint one of the city’s boxes.

“Councilwoman Price was thrilled to sponsor this contest and help make sure it came to fruition,” West said. “She loves public art, especially when it showcases talented young artists.”

Annalise’s art teacher had informed her students about the contest and provided them with the submission form.

“It was like an 8-and-a-half-by-11-[inch] paper, and they have little boxes, and on each of the boxes it has like ‘front,’ ‘back,’ ‘side’ [for] what you would do, what you would paint on the actual box,” Annalise said. “My teacher said we should base it on things that we’ve seen in Long Beach. It could really be anything. It could be like jellyfish, it could be the ocean, it could be a park. So, I kind of combined everything and did half ocean and half land, all connected with one big tree.”

Annalise is hoping to complete the mural over the next three weekends.

Annalise’s mother, Miranda Mirsec, said she first noticed her daughter’s artistic proclivity when she was quite young. Although Annalise did not speak during her first few years, she found ways to express herself with pencils and crayons.

“She’d be 1 [year old], and she’d be drawing things that actually resemble things,” Miranda said, adding that Annalise seemed to always gravitate toward art supplies. Miranda said she never pushed her daughter to draw or paint; she wanted to allow the creative pursuits to happen naturally or “fall off” if Annalise lost interest.

But she never did, and now she’s engaging in her largest artistic undertaking to date.

“So far, I think it’s been a great experience for her, just to see what it takes to do public art,” Miranda said. “Like she said, she’s never done something like this, or of this size. I also think it puts her in a place where she engages with people outside of her immediate circle of friends and family. For her to be literally in public while people are walking by and they’re reacting and commenting and asking questions, as an artist, that’s hard because you’re really vulnerable and you’re exposing yourself. So, I think it’s part of the growing process as a human, but especially as an artist– you’ve got to toughen up your skin, and you’ve got to know what you love doing, and you’ve got to know that you’re doing it because you love it, regardless of whether other people like it or don’t like it.”

Miranda sees the utility-box project as an appropriate stepping stone in Annalise’s artistic journey, but also as a kind of test for her to gauge if public art is the right fit for her.

“I think it’s a good, safe way for her to kind of start feeling that out– that process of [deciding], ‘Do I want to put my work out? How does it feel when other people see my work?’ It’s there for everyone to see, and so, it is that growth process,” Miranda said. “Like with all our experiences, I think it adds to our maturity level, and this has definitely added to her artistic maturity level that I hope [it] will be a foundation for her to do more– that she’ll continue to do more, even if it’s privately, with her art.”