The wall along the Interstate 10 off-ramp near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and 34th Street always seemed like an eyesore to Gus Harper.
The proud Santa Monica High School alumnus certainly saw room for improvement on an expansive vertical surface that stared blankly back at motorists and pedestrians near a major entryway into Santa Monica.
“That whole corner looked really dumpy,” he said.
Harper, a professional artist for the last 16 years, has done his part to spruce it up. With the support of a nonprofit organization, local businesses and community leaders, he recently painted a multi-paneled mural that he hopes will inspire curiosity in the countless people who pass it on a daily basis.
“Instead of driving by a gray wall, there’s a vibrant mural welcoming you to the city,” he said of his first major public creation. “It brings a sense of optimism. You’re replacing an old, dilapidated wall with a piece of art, so it’s definitely an upgrade. There’s a lot of really good stuff popping up around town. People are proud of the street art in their communities.”
The project, which has been dubbed “Minor Identity Crisis,” features a series of more than a dozen separate but related paintings. Harper explained that the mural explores the idea that access to information in a digital age forces society to enter unknowns as it begins to question old paradigms.
“When you have unknowns, you have fear,” he said, “so it’s about overcoming fear and becoming the best version of ourselves.”
The mural’s panels stand for chapters in people’s lives, Harper said, and the elephants migrating across the bottom of the piece represent humankind’s journey. The work is based on a series of paintings, the originals of which will be on display from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Jan. 23 during a showing at Harper’s gallery, 11306 Venice Blvd., in Los Angeles.
Although Harper has Santa Monica roots, he didn’t get involved in the project until a chance encounter at an event organized by Create:Fixate, an area collective that supports emerging artists. That’s where he met Heather Rabun of Beautify Earth, a nonprofit group that aims to unite communities through street art.
Harper told her he was interested in painting a mural and eventually landed the gig after being selected by the building’s owners. The 1990 Samohi grad said it was particularly satisfying to do the mural, which was also backed by the Pico Improvement Organization, because he is from Santa Monica and has a personal connection to the city.
Harper completed the piece in August, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for eight warm summer days. Motorists shouted words of encouragement from their cars. The Upper West, a nearby Pico Boulevard restaurant that has displayed Harper’s art, brought him cold beverages during the day. A client had dinner waiting for him in the evenings.
“A lot of people saw me while I was making it, but I still have friends who say, ‘I just saw your mural,’” Harper said. “I tried to do something where people would know it’s my work.”
Harper said some Upper West patrons have posed for selfies under the crowns that are featured in one of the mural’s panels, a paradigm shift for what was once a blank wall.