This is my favorite mural in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif. To me, it’s a bird perched on an agave bloom (obviously!), painted in a very graphic style reminiscent of a woodcut. I often suspect many people of being plant blind, oblivious to the plant world around them, but I’ve got plenty of blindnesses of my own — for instance, to murals. This mural appeared, I have no idea why or when, and whenever I see it, I feel soothed. End of story of the extent of my appreciation. Except a few weeks ago, as I walked by I photographed the artist’s signature: “Gail Werner.” And then forgot about doing so for another couple weeks. A few days ago I found the image on my phone and looked into the artist and discovered that the mural was painted in 2016 in a city-wide mural painting project that was part of a larger global effort known as Pow! Wow!:
On her work, here’s Gail Werner in her own words:
“My work reflects the landscape and cultural imagery related to my Native American background. I am part Cupeño, Luiseño, and Kumeyaay (three tribes located in San Diego County). Native American stories and songs, especially the Cupeño creation stories and traditional “bird songs,” play an important role in how I see the natural world. These stories and songs, in which plants and animals are the characters, tell about how the world came to be and how the people came to be where they are. The “bird songs” tell about the journey of the people, which is said to parallel the migration of the birds. The songs tell about what the birds/people see on their journey: the mountains, deserts, night sky, and other landmarks. For me, they reflect a dreamlike, evolving world, a world I hope to create in my paintings.
‘I often incorporate abstract pictograph (Native American rock art) designs found throughout the region: dot patterns, chevrons, diamond patterns, spirals, and helixes. Designs from Southern California Indian basketry and clay vessels used for food and water storage often make their way into my work. Southern California Indians are known for their beautiful, intricately woven baskets, which often use flower, snake, and geometric shapes. My great-grandmother, Salvadora Valenzuela, was a noted basket maker.
‘I work in oil on wood panel, sometimes incorporating pencil and Prismacolor. I also work with the painterly printmaking process called monotype, as well as the pigmented wax process, encaustic. I usually begin by laying down thin layers of color, and the work evolves from there. Images emerge, some more loosely painted or outlined and some more fully rendered. Landscape, color, light and imagery, abstract designs, stories and songs—all of these elements merge together for me to evoke a sense of journey and place.”
I haven’t found confirmation that the image is that of a bird perched specifically on an agave bloom, but I love it nonetheless. On her website you can find this image and more in this style under Monotype Prints. A video of the mural in progress in 2016, accompanied by “Tango Milonga Sensual” and “Electronic Tango for Two” by Ariel Sanchez, can be found here.