Mario on the 10 freeway

 

The sight of a cartoon plumber appearing on the local freeway might have had drivers thinking they were hallucinating, but unlike the subject of the sculpture, magic mushrooms have nothing to do with their experience.

A sculpture of Mario from the classic Mario Bros. video game has been installed atop a column on the 10 freeway in Santa Monica. The character is visible from the corner of Olympic and 5th Street and to vehicles entering the freeway at that intersection.

It is the work of Bohemia Incorporated and the arts duo said the location had been on their radar for years but it took some time to figure out what to put there.

“That particular column stood out to me as soon as we started doing this and we’ve been doing this for about two years now,” said one of the artists who only identify themselves by their artistic nom de plume.

He said they debated other ideas, such as a guy with a fishing pole, but the column’s uncanny similarity to the classic video game pipes — used by Mario to travel around the Mushroom Kingdom — made the feisty plumber a natural fit.

The Styrofoam sculpture is about 32 inches tall and is painted to match the concrete it sits atop.

Bohemia Incorporated is earning a reputation for transit adjacent work but they didn’t begin with the goal of decorating freeways.

“When we first started doing this, we just thought it would be fun to do three-dimensional street art,” he said. “We started sculpting some figures and then we thought ‘where do we put them?’ that was a dilemma we did not anticipate.”

Their early work was installed on streets throughout the area but the pieces were removed within hours, often by individuals unaffiliated with the authorities but who just wanted the work.

“We realized we’d have to really plan it out more, think about a place and a piece that would work for that place and the mermaid is the most successful one,” he said.

The mermaid sculpture is on the westbound 10 freeway near Cheviot Hills and has remained on the wall of the road for about two years. Their roadside art has included a large work of a woman taking a selfie that stretched more than 12 feet wide.

Installing rogue sculptures on public property is not legal and the artist said the pair keep details of their regular life secret. However, he said the pair do have art training and work in the creative industry.

As for why they spend their free time risking jail and dodging traffic, he said it’s about brightening the daily lives of Angelenos.

“Commuting on the freeway is never fun so if you see something that breaks that up, that’s definitely a cool thing and that’s what we’re going for,” he said. “To make something that’s cool or funny or they like seeing.”

The appearance of the Mario sculpture coincides with a larger effort by City Officials to provide more public art. The City has partnered with Downtown Santa Monica Inc. on a rotating set of installations throughout Downtown and City Hall is developing a citywide Public Art Master Plan.

Officials are inviting the public to contribute to the official plan at a pair of upcoming meetings. Feedback will be taken on Saturday, July 29 at Virginia Avenue Park, 2200 Virginia Ave. from 10 – 11:30 a.m. and on Wednesday, August 2 at the Santa Monica Main Public Library, 601 Santa Monica Boulevard from 6 – 7:30 p.m.

An online survey is also available (https://docs.google.com/forms/u/0/d/e/1FAIpQLScDFIF-ictU-0eco3Wr4jAsujrbhKz-_g8Dmp5Kl8DlBE4KBg/viewform?usp=sf_link).

“The City of Santa Monica presents Paletas Santa Monica, an artist-led community outreach project by Mario Mesquita, to engage residents throughout Santa Monica in conversations about the future of public art in the city,” said the city announcement of the meetings. “Mario and his team of local artists and educators will travel throughout Santa Monica’s neighborhoods between July 29 and August 29, 2017 on two custom pedal-powered Paletero Carts. They will stop at predetermined locations to gather input on residents’ awareness of existing public art and what and where they would like to see public art in the future. In exchange, each participant will be treated to a delicious ice-cold, hand-crafted popsicle.”

editor@www.smdp.com