Painter livens up streets and buildings with historical murals

<strong>Manhattan Beach mural from 2007</strong>
Brandy Soto
Editorial intern

Art Mortimer didn’t exactly plan to become an artist; it was something he stumbled into. He was born in Long Beach, and he says he had a particularly normal childhood, with no real artistic influence. 
“My father was a college math and physics teacher, and my mother was a housewife,” he says. “I think living life, pretty much just the way it presented itself, led me into an exploration of feelings and emotions through representational art. Turns out there were a lot of artistic people in my parents’ families, including my two grandfathers, but I did not really experience that much through them.”
Although he always admired artists and their interesting lifestyles, it was not until college that Mortimer realized he could be one. 
“I became an art major after a failed attempt at physics,” he explains. “In art-history classes, we learned about artists and their lives, and I always wanted to be like them– the guy in the garret in Paris with the smock, beret, goatee and the babes. But I did not think it was possible. Many years later I had matured enough and learned enough to believe that it was possible.”
He graduated from Occidental College in Eagle Rock, California, and has since become a freelance artist and art educator. 
Mortimer paints scenes of everyday life; many of his acrylics are of beaches, bridges or piers. He is also known for his detailed murals, most of which are historic and representative of a certain city or surrounding areas.
He has painted close to 100 murals since 1971, and several of them having been displayed in newspapers, books and films in the United States and across the world.
Recently, he completed a project that he calls “A Mural in a Weekend” in Twentynine Palms, California. He has also been working at Dodger Stadium, creating murals that celebrate memorable events in the history of the Los Angeles baseball team.

In painting, what is the biggest challenge you have faced?
The biggest challenge, of many, is the original concept. Particularly in a mural. Without that, all the other challenges are unattainable.

Do you think about placement before you begin a project, or do you freestyle in the moment?
I plan out where I am going. In a mural, I plan and design very carefully. In a painting, a rough outline and then let it evolve as it goes.

Is there a special technique or theme that has become a staple of your art?
In murals: historical themes, and a collage approach. In paintings: the intersection between nature and the man-made.
<strong>The artist with his mural that marks the entrance to the California Heights historic district. It was sponsored by the California Heights Neighborhood Association and the City of Long Beach. The community wanted to show the positive aspects of living in the neighborhood, and Mortimer framed these qualities in the context of an old postcard.</strong>

Is there a process in choosing the materials you will use for your paintings/murals?
Through experience, I know what works best for a mural in a specific situation to make the work go smoothly and to make the mural last as long as possible. But some mural projects require special or different materials, so that necessitates a research and learning process to find the best solution(s) for that project. For paintings, I like to work on canvas with paints I am familiar with.

Which mediums do you prefer to work with?
For murals, artists’ acrylic. For canvases, acrylics and oils.

Do you prefer working alone or in groups?
I prefer working alone, but on murals [I] often hire people to assist me to make the work go faster and easier.

How has your artwork developed over the years?
Big question. Very complex answer. Every project or painting is a new challenge and requires me to try something I have never done before. So my work has gotten progressively more sophisticated and challenging– not to mention more complex and informed by all that experience.

Is there a piece that you favor more than others?
Yes. Always. But it keeps changing, depending on how I feel about my latest projects.

Is there anything you hope people can take away from your pieces?
I hope, through my murals, to make people’s daily lives more enjoyable and richer. A historical and beautiful mural becomes part of people’s daily lives. That is a wonderful thing for me. With my paintings, I hope to be able to express feelings and emotions through depicting scenes that people can resonate with and feel a sense of communion with the world they live in and experience.
In what type of setting do you work best?
Alone or with one or two others doing their own thing as well. Mostly outdoors, too.

Are there any artists that influenced you?
Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Winslow Homer, Maxfield Parrish, etc.

How has your art shaped who you are today, or who you want to be?
Art has been the defining element in my life. I have pursued nothing much else, and it has allowed me to develop and expand the sensitivities to and awareness of the world and life around me that were always there. To experience the world through the eyes of an artist is a very profound experience.

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