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Student Muralists Go 'Through the Looking Glass'

When you find yourself in the fascinating and whimsical world of Bob Pritikin, make art. That’s what three Academy of Art University students did over their spring break and throughout the rest of spring semester when they were hired to paint a mural by Bob Pritikin—former advertising executive, hotelier, teacher, author and collector-in-charge of the “Pritikin Museum.”

The Site
Chenery House, a private residence built by Pritikin, is located in Glen Park, San Francisco. It includes a swimming pool, tree house and a $40 million art collection. Used as a rental event center—where Pritikin is the host for eccentric parties, including his annual Labor Day party for 800 guests—it’s a home for all things weird and wonderful.

Just one example: Pritikin plays the musical saw and is one of the world’s best. Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney and Liberace are a few who have performed with him at Chenery House.

Calling in the Pros
Students in the School of Fine Art mural class are taught to paint professional murals. The purpose of the class is to use art and design skills to create murals for a living. These student painters have achieved renown throughout the Bay Area for their larger-than-life works—executed while the students gain valuable experience in handling “real-world” commissions.

Pritikin called the school to ask about muralists to paint his garden wall—as an addition to his art collection. For the students, spring break was coming up, and it seemed like an ideal moment to work on a private-commission project, which would also be a great addition to the student art portfolio they are building.

What? No spring break on the beach? That’s right. Painters like to paint, and giving up break was easy since the work was rewarding and fun. Pam Marano (BFA student, Fine Art), Kenneth Malone (BFA, Fine Art), and Juan Ruiz (BFA, School of Illustration) set about painting a 87 x 8-foot mural in the garden. (See the complete mural.)

A Mural Takes Shape
The finished wall painting is a tribute to creativity. The wall, once covered in ivy, was damaged due to a water leak in the sprinkler system. When the ivy was removed, Pritikin realized that the perfect enhancement to his garden would be a mural.

The original call to action was for Georgia O’Keefe-inspired flowers. The students created a maquette painting, and Pritikin agreed to the concept. But after beginning the work, they showed Pritikin a “roly-poly” bug from the garden. Pritikin saw the fragile bug as a visual concept in the making and requested a revised design, with insects.

“Bugs are people, too,” says Pritikin.

A new design evolved, with a massive bug world and a lot more. Famous people appear. Pritikin loves to play with concepts, and elements added to the mural include Barack Obama, Marilyn Monroe…and flying pigs. (You have to see it to understand—you can’t make this kind of thing up.)

Interacting with the client throughout the process was a highlight for the student painters.

“It was fun from the beginning working on the mural,” recalls Ruiz. “He first wanted flowers, and then he began to change his idea. We submitted a portfolio that was tailored to suit the location. We wanted this job! So we did research and were successful at landing it. As the design changed, we were able to keep up with the challenge of the changing concepts in our client’s vision. That’s all part of being a professional.”

Says Marano, “I think that with clients you can’t really predict when they are going change things…then you have to come up with plan B to meet the needs and the deadline. It was really great to have an experience in the real world, and all the knowledge we were taught in school really helps when planning a project.”

True to all the exhibits in the Pritikin Museum, the new mural is an addition to the wonderful world beyond the obvious. The client is happy, and the students keep making the world a more artful place, one mural at a time.

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