- Melina Paris
We’ve recently fallen back from daylight saving time. But if you’ve traveled along Gaffey Street during the abbreviated sunlight hours, you may have noticed the variety of new artwork on the Department of Transportation, or DOT boxes along the thoroughfare from 1st to 15th streets.
Eight artists were commissioned to paint San Pedro’s newest iteration of public art, selected this spring from more than 25 submissions. Altogether, there are now 24 DOT boxes displaying public art on Pacific Avenue, Harbor Boulevard and now Gaffey Street. Council District Office 15 gave the San Pedro Arts & Cultural District a grant for seven new boxes and the Omelette and Waffle Shop on Gaffey sponsored the eighth box in front of the restaurant.
Three of the artists– all residents of San Pedro– discussed their processes in creating these boxes and some thoughts about our arts district.
With six of his murals displayed on the streets of San Pedro, Luis Sanchez is the town’s most-public artist. His DOT box on Gaffey Street is at 7th Street in front of the CVS. The piece features images of water swirls and a big fish with an orange backsplash. Sanchez also painted two DOT boxes on 1st Street and Harbor Boulevard, adorning one with a teenage male skateboarder with graphic images and the other with a young boy playing a blue guitar. Sanchez included the youth because there are so many skateboarders here, “It’s for them and to identify and also to recognize the youth.”
After Sanchez moved to the San Pedro arts district in 2015, he submitted a rendering in response to an open call for artists. Six months later, he received the call to paint the mural on the Lilyan Fierman wall, near Sacred Grounds on 6th Street. His other murals are at the Good Vibrations tattoo shop on 8th Street and Pacific and in the basement of Gallery Azul, where the owner plans to open a cheese shop.
When Sanchez moved here he knew a renaissance was happening. He wanted to be part of the arts community and to help raise it up.
“I love when there is a renaissance of art in cities because it’s just so raw,” Sanchez said.
By rawness Sanchez means when the catalysts of an art movement are just starting. He’s curious to see where San Pedro will be in the next five to 10 years because of the arts and the opportunities that are being brought here. He lived in downtown Los Angeles for 16 years before moving here, “when there was nothing … and I love that rawness.”
“The true, hardcore artists were there starting that renaissance, that movement that’s now the arts district, (in L.A.),” Sanchez said. “We built that and I’m proud to be part of that.”
Sanchez came directly from LA to San Pedro’s live work space at the PacArts building.
There is so much building going on in downtown San Pedro and Sanchez is excited about connections he sees with the Ports O’ Call development and the arts in this city. He divulged that he already designed a mural on the history of San Pedro, from Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s time to now. He wants it to be located at the new Ports O’ Call, saying, “There’s no place better to have this mural of the past and what the Harbor looked like.”
“I think that’s going to be an amazing thing for San Pedro because what is unique about this town is that it’s a destination,” Sanchez said. “You can’t ride through it. You have to take the 110 Freeway to get here and then Gaffey doesn’t take you anywhere but the ocean. For that reason, gentrification won’t happen here as elsewhere. (This) is a little world and gentrification will help our own economy and the artists, I hope.”
He added that since Ports O’ Call is going to be “bigger and better, it has to draw people.”
“If the focus of the arts is continued it will be successful,” Sanchez said. “The emphasis of San Pedro is all around art. It can become like Laguna Beach where it stays special because of the way it’s been developed. Connecting to history will be key.”
Petroczy created an environmental mural applying the pointillism technique on the Gaffey and 8th street DOT box. Pointillism is a method of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.
The artist said she’s been in the unusual position of painting 15 DOT boxes. She was inspired by pointillist artist Elspeth McLean, who is well known on Pinterest. She paints tiny pointillist pieces on little rocks, or Mandala stones.
“I wanted to bring a concept like that and scale it up for a DOT box,” Petroczy said. “I looked at pictures taken by drones over Point Fermin and at the lines and the cliffs. It gives a feeling of having a bird’s eye view— from (the vantage of) flying over the ocean and looking towards the Korean Bell.”
The DOT box theme was cultural assets past and present, so Petroczy said she had to include the Korean Bell. Coincidentally, a Korean lady owns the dry-cleaning business where Petroczy’s DOT box is — Green Cleaners.
“When we started to paint, we introduced ourselves,” Petroczy said. “Then later she came out and brought us snacks. And soon, every day she brought us Korean cookies. When we asked her what the sign on the bell said, she told us it says, Friendly Bell.”
The “Friendship Bell” inspired Petroczy because a few years ago, she and her girlfriend were there taking pictures.
“It’s an amazing piece of artwork,” Petroczy said. “There’s this funny little feature about it … at the bottom there’s this white granite platform or steps and at the bottom of that are gargoyles. When I drew my picture for the box I put the tiny little gargoyle faces on it, using these tiny little brushes.”
When Petroczy submitted the mockup to the arts commission, the bell was a small feature. She added detail to it, saying she could have stayed for days painting but she finally just had to stop. The box illustrates images of water and the hillsides along Paseo Del Mar, leading up to the iconic bell delineated with white pointillism dots. The bell itself is a fine work of great detail and that is no small feat on a roughly-primed DOT box.
Petroczy heard about the call for the DOT boxes in Harbor City from the Council District 15 newsletter. She noted that, by the way it was written, it seemed like there was no compensation. So, she contacted the office and told them she had done a couple of these boxes but they’re really a lot of work. The materials cost and the work takes at least three days— not eight hour days but 12 hour days. She said she’d be happy to talk to them about this but she cannot do it for free.
She discovered the Arts Council had a grant for the boxes. Petroczy met with them and did mockups for about one dozen different pieces of which half were chosen. She then decided to do a pointillist piece for every box she painted representing the local environment that it’s in.
In a positive turn of events, that artist call that seemed to not offer compensation gave Petroczy the idea to teach classes on DOT box painting. She began to make time lapse videos on her boxes and she recorded videos about the kinds of materials and supplies that are needed and where to find them. The boxes take time to complete but Petroczy said they are really fun to do.
“I’m grateful. I didn’t have to endure bad weather,” she said. I had friendly people and I had support. Out of all the boxes I’ve done, this one just flowed very easily and I was happy to finally do one in my hometown.”
Wood’s DOT box is on 11th Street and Gaffey and is sponsored by the Omelette and Waffle Shop. As a history lover, Wood suggested to the Arts & Cultural District to have a history theme on the DOT boxes for continuity and because it’s the perfect vehicle to educate the public about the history of the region.
“Because (Juan Rodríguez) Cabrillo is everywhere, I decided to paint him,” Wood said. “He arrived in 1542. He was actually Portuguese, but he was working for the Spanish and he was one of the first (explorers) to come up the coast.”
(Although more than one village in Portugal has claimed to be his birthplace, scholars have long debated whether Cabrillo was of Spanish or Portuguese origin).
But Wood didn’t want to do the whole box on just Cabrillo. She wanted to include the Indians from this area, who she discovered were the Tongva. Wood’s box depicts Cabrillo on one side and on two other sides it shows Tongva people on water scenes along with the woven baskets they made. Then, she realized that she didn’t know the proper way to refer to the Tongva. She wondered, were they referred to as Tongva people, Tongva Indians, or tribe. Then, in October, it so happened that the Tongva were having a four-day festival at Angels Gate Cultural Center, The Many Winters Gathering of Elders.
“They built a whole little village, they had a teepee, an art show, Wood said. “It was really well done. And I met the elders. So, I said to them, ‘I’m doing a DOT box and a little education on the Tongva. I said what do I call you guys?’
Wood said it was very interesting. She remembers talking to one of the women elders who brought some of the other elders around. They had their own discussion on it and finally, they came up with Tongva People.
Wood originally painted a much brighter pallet but then wanted it to fit in better with the surrounding environment. She toned the pallet down to blues, blacks and grays, with orange highlights. She was concerned about the color pallets around the box. But it worked out perfectly because of some yellow flowers that grow around the box. The colors are vibrant, yet calming.
“It took a while to finish but the great part was I met the whole neighborhood,” Wood said.
She met all the “crazy people” and a lot of kids because it’s near a school. One young man who is part Tongva came by and talked about his background with Wood. Even a man on his Harley pulled over to offer to help her.
Until three years ago, Wood lived in a loft in the downtown L.A. arts district. The rent soon became too high and— having long-time connections to this town— she moved to San Pedro. Wood had many experiences here, from giving back to the community as a Girl Scout and with her family visiting the canneries and the aquarium, to later, living on the top of a 58-foot schooner that was in dry-dock here and then, in the early 90s, throwing a flamenco art show at the original Sacred Grounds location. Mostly, she loves the ocean and living just one block from the main channel. Now, she is part of “Backdoor Studios” with the open studios in San Pedro that participate in the art walks.
Living in the heart of the arts district, Wood has a good vantage point in seeing the changes at Ports O’ Call and the recent gentrification in the arts district. When asked if there appears to be any community connection between the two locations, she said she hasn’t seen much of a connection.
“What I discovered is that you assume that when people come to a tourist place they will wander and be curious and go all over but they don’t,” Wood said. “They decide to go to one place. And if they go to Ports O’ Call there’s no big signs to encourage them to go up the hill or that tells them that we have this cool little downtown with galleries and shops. But then (many places aren’t) open. The studios are only open on First Thursday and it’s a (quiet) street. When we tried to have open studios on one Saturday, half the galleries didn’t open or no one comes. People only come for something to do or to eat. I think Ports O’ Call will be okay but it needed to be renovated.”
Wood is working on new projects and she teaches graphic design three days a week at Santa Monica College. She also exhibits other artists’ works in her gallery.