Project: Animurals aka the Zebra Murals - 1984 - 85 restored 2016 (with Kristi Holohan assisting in 2016)
Dimensions: 200' + long x 9'/14' (six zebra figures)
Medium: Oils on Concrete
Location: Broadway at 34th beneath 580 freeway, Oakland
For about two months following the giraffe murals I was “famous”. There was buzz, I didn’t have to spell my last name for folks-a first. People returned my phone calls-immediately. Relatives bragged. The success of the Giraphics murals was intoxicating and I wanted a follow up project. Rick Mannshardt who had taken the photos of the giraffes offered his images of zebras taken at Oakland’s Knowland Park Zoo. I had paint leftover from the small grant I’d gotten from the Office of Community Development for Giraphics. I applied for an encroachment permit from CalTrans (which in those days was a three month process and a two page form they sent in the mail). (Today, it’s a two year process and the document is the size of a small telephone book).
When I started painting a representative from Oakland’s Art Council showed up to reprimand me for not seeking their permission. The harangue went on for some time. In the end there was no enforcement end of their ire so the work continued. I was going to paint seven zebra figures with equally spaced animals but I ran out of funds and energy-besides, I could always come back later and paint it.
The freeway had been sitting there pretty much undisturbed for 20 years and a ledge up above the zebras was the perfect perch for hundreds of pigeons. The sidewalks were heaped with droppings-some kind of poop prevention device had to be installed and like the giraffes I put huge chunks of soft styrofoam up above each figure and troweled a concrete lip about an inch high up above them to help the rainwater run around each figure. For 20+ years it worked fine. At some point CalTrans installed mesh screens to keep out the birds and removed the concrete lip. The water was running over the paintings. Sunlight continued the damage. Once they decayed the graffiti started. Lots of graffiti. Then about two years ago someone with the City of Oakland painted out the tagging with gray paint and when it was brought to my attention I decided to restore them.
I’d used a masonry conditioner as a primer and a thick exterior spackle to patch the rip-rap surface down below. CalTrans put on this rip-rap texture to prevent graffiti. Oil paints prefer smooth surfaces and the zebras needed the walls to be smoothed out. Originally, each figure took about a month to paint. By comparison, each restoration took about two weeks. You get quicker the longer you stay in the game.
On August 13th, a re-dedication was held to celebrate the 33 years the Zebra murals have lasted. Friends and local arts advocates spoke. Bill Longdagin brought out his magic donkey named Fuffy Noel which made all the animals really come to life! Phil Tagamii spoke and helped push the gofundme effort over the top making a large match donation/challenge. Sacred Medicine Healer Brenda Salgado (https://www.nepantlaconsulting.com/about) the wall and created a space for us all to feel safe and welcome in.
This project was originally developed in cooperation with CalTrans. Thanks to Lizz Milota and John Cascio who helped bring the scaffolding to the site each morning and store it at their home. Further thanks to Kristi Holohan for superb painting assistance. Thanks again to Rick Mannshardt for his photographic skills. And my thanks to all who came and spoke that day. Further thanks to Julie Lucchesi and Pat Coleman. Many thanks Helen Babalis for her fantastic poster design work. Rob Perica for his documentary photography! And mom and dad, William and Marian Fontes.
A special note about GoFundMe: I had never attempted to do a social media campaign before and set a high goal of $25,000. My muses: Valerie Winemuller, Naomi Schiff and Cynthia Elliot all independently got in my face to encourage me to try it. In three months over 325 individuals contributed and sent it over the top. My ongoing thanks to both GoFundMe, my muses and all who came out to encourage me on, donate and share the good energy!!
(Fuffy Noel with Bill Longdagin)