Last Updated on December 5, 2023

What better way to inspire creativity in a community than to spray it onto the walls for all to see? Within a few blocks, visitors to Concord, CA 30 miles east of San Francisco can marvel at a manga strip stretching across the backside of a theater, 20-foot-tall birds soaring, and a two-story, sharp-taloned dragon.

Creative Concord began its public art project in 2022 by facilitating the installation of 12 murals in its first year, with plans for more. The goal is improving the daily lives of residents and drawing more tourists. Young artists were given free rein to create their mural masterpieces, brightening the sides of businesses and adding color and beauty to this welcoming town.

The Creation of Creative Concord

On my visit in 2023, I was led on a tour of the murals by Sage Loring who was instrumental in starting Creative Concord. Along with his wife, Tari, Loring founded Local Edition, an agency focused on project development, art curation, and intriguing experiences. They envisioned facilitating engaging public art in the heart of Contra Costa County.

Loring’s enthusiasm for sharing art shone through as he detailed the project, the murals, and the artists. He guided my group around the small community of Concord to demonstrate how the placing of the artwork takes advantage of the visibility of the chosen buildings. Each of these murals resides within two blocks of Todos Santos Plaza, an attractive grassy square in the center of town.

Over the course of a year, Creative Concord teamed up with Visit Concord and local businesses to install 12 large-scale murals and three sculptures around downtown. They also offer a regular schedule of events featuring art and music.

As I gazed up at the magnificent murals, I was stunned by the intricacy which capitalized on the varied texture and scale of the walls. Spray painting has certainly come a long way since the first taggers hit subway trains in New York.

Many muralists started with graffiti and progressed to commissioned art using professional-grade spray paint to ensure the preservation of their work.

Concord, CA mural tour

'Lead The Way' mural by Emily Ding in Concord, CA.
‘Lead The Way’ mural by Emily Ding in Concord, CA. Photo by Judy Karnia

We began our tour on Concord Avenue, admiring Lead the Way on the front side of the Brenden Theatre. As an animal lover, I enjoyed the way Emily Ding captured the movement of three birds in flight. The bright gold of a small flame in the upper left corner drew my eyes up in a gradation of color from the deep blues of night at the bottom right. Two large hawks shimmered in variations of red and purple as they zeroed in on the small bird carrying the match.

Ding’s murals demonstrate her connection with nature as she recreates flora and fauna in intense, expressive poses. The large scale of her depictions, full of agility and emotion out in the midst of the community, inspires in a way that a painting in a museum does not.

As we came around the side of the theater, a vivid scene spread before us on the long side of the building. The red, black, and white color scheme and strong lines evoked early comics drawings combined with the look of modern-day anime.

Seeing the Future depicts a fierce young woman on a motorcycle and a dangerous-looking urban scene. The designer, John Horton, left the outcome of the story open to interpretation, but draws the viewer into the action. From 20 yards away, a set of eyes loomed on the side of the parking structure. I couldn’t tell if they were watching me or the comic strip!

Horton brought in another renowned muralist, David “Hyde” Cho, to assist him with the rendition. Together, they spent two full weeks on a construction lift creating and perfecting the mural. They combined their various influences of fine and low-brow art, from comic books and graffiti to modernist and Renaissance painting. Even with the large scale and use of spray paint, their attention to detail is stunning.

Johnny Brenden, owner of Brenden Theatres, enthusiastically supported Creative Concord’s efforts to enliven the community with public art. He learned about the movie business early in life and has grown his “Movie Magic” to over 100 screens in California, Nevada, and Arizona. His grandfather, Mr. Ted Mann, built the Mann Theatre Corporation, and his grandmother, Rhonda Fleming, was a Hollywood star.

More Concord, CA murals

'Rabbit, Rabbit' mural in Concord, CA by Emily Ding.
‘Rabbit, Rabbit’ mural in Concord, CA by Emily Ding. Photo by Judy Karnia

As our tour moved into the parking structure, a giant red and orange bunny jumped out at us. Emily Ding designed Rabbit, Rabbit and worked with seven local residents to fill this wall. This was a joint project with 333Arts, a community organization providing opportunities for emerging artists.

Ding’s sprightly rabbit romping through flowers brings nature and art into this bleak, grey environment. It lifts viewers out of their isolated cars into a shared, lively space celebrating the 2023 Chinese “Year of the Rabbit.”

Continuing our tour, Loring explained how he negotiates with local businesses to use their buildings. Creative Concord chooses sites and artists, but does not dictate what each artist will paint. They trust that by commissioning talented, emerging artists and selecting appropriate locations, the results will be a valuable addition to the town. Business owners often ask Loring for input into what the mural will look like, but he believes that the creator must have control over their art. Everyone has been happy with the outcomes so far.

One small compromise occurred with the composition on the side of Purple Kow, a bubble tea store. The site is well positioned along Concord Avenue in a great location for public art, but Loring met some resistance from the owner.

The artist, Arsenio Baca, offered to add a purple cow in the corner of his tableau, Land Reclaimed, which is full of local wildlife and plants. The result was a win for everyone.

Baca started his art with a mural of Bob Marley on the wall of his elementary school in seventh grade. His work now includes paintings, drawings, wood burnings, and tattoos.

Rounding a corner, there it was. A fiery dragon roaring off the side of the Bacon Block, adding a contemporary flair to a building dating back to the first town merchant. David “Hyde” Cho, the creator of the mural, dedicated the artwork to Kitakami, Japan, a sister city of Concord, as a way of sharing Japanese culture with the local community.

Cho earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute and helped start the street art surge in the Mission District in the early 2000s. He was born in Japan.

Loring seemed proud to show off Hyde’s Dragon of Michinoku and described how the other artists involved with the Creative Concord project often came by to watch Hyde work. The sweeping forms and geometrically precise shapes within the design were incredible to imagine mastering on this scale. The serene face of a girl contrasts with the raging energy of the dragon giving an overall feeling of power.

As our tour came to an end, we were treated to a glimpse of how the murals come together.

'Goddess Victoria' mural in Concord, CA by Shaye Maxey and Jeffrey Geronimo in progress.
‘Goddess Victoria’ mural in Concord, CA by Shaye Maxey and Jeffrey Geronimo in progress. Photo by Judy Karnia

Shaye Maxey and Jeffrey Geronimo had just wrapped up for the day midway through their Goddess Victoria composition. The basic sketch on the unfinished portion added to the impressiveness of the complex finished murals. Both artists had recently attained their BFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and lend a youthful perspective to this community project.

I loved exploring this outdoor museum on a gorgeous California day and can’t wait to see more of these artists’ fascinating creative works in the future.

Author

  • Judy Karnia

    Judy grew up in Chicago and now lives in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. She retired as a practicing feline veterinarian and is now a travel writer and certified nature therapy guide.