When he first moved to Spokane, mural artist Daniel Lopez fell in love with the finches frolicking near his downtown apartment.
“I’d sit down at the bus stop and just sort of watch them,” said Lopez, 35. “I could tell some of them were mischievous, some of them were just like jerks. I could just tell their character by looking at them.”
Four years later, those boisterous birds inspired the prolific spray-paint artist’s latest work, a mural depicting swooping magpies and finches flying beneath the Interstate 90 overpass at Altamont Street. Lopez, a California native whose work can be seen on the Boulevard Mercantile Building on Monroe Street and several walls in the Garland and West Central neighborhoods, put the finishing touches this week on “Fly With Me,” the latest in a series of murals aimed at beautifying downtown corridors.
Lopez’s vision of an eye-popping blue sky filled with native birds flying in harmony was selected from about a dozen proposals and funded by the nonprofit Spokane Arts. A selection committee included representatives of the East Central neighborhood, said Melissa Huggins, the art nonprofit’s executive director.
“We’re usually only able to do one or two of these murals each year,” Huggins said. The Altamont location was selected for updating this year because it’s close to the recently completed $4.3 million overhaul of East Sprague Avenue. Existing artwork, painted by dozens of volunteers with latex paint in the fall of 1995, was also starting to fade and crack, Huggins said.
“It was in pretty rough shape,” she said.
The city has been filling its cavernous railroad viaducts and interstate overpasses with public art since the early 1990s. In the early days, multiple artists would be given small sections of a wall to create their visions. Lately, Spokane Arts has been commissioning specific artists, like Lopez, to do the work.
Over the past two decades, more than 35 public murals throughout town have been commissioned by the city and Spokane Arts, Huggins said. They include technicolor portraits peeking out at cars beneath the bridge supports on Adams Street in west downtown, and the menagerie of cryptozoological creatures, including the region’s most famous beast, Bigfoot, beneath the tracks at Wall Street.
Lopez said he was inspired by the work of brothers Todd and Cain Benson, the mural team responsible for the collection of photo-realistic faces emblazoned on the railroad supports at Maple Street, near the entrance to Browne’s Addition.
“I’d always been an artist. I have a graffiti art background,” Lopez said. “In my head I thought, maybe I could do that.”
The Bensons’ work, completed in 2014, is in need of some touching up, Huggins said. The team has been busy this summer working on an interior mural at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, she said, but the restoration work could take place before the weather turns too cold to work outside.
Lopez worked feverishly on his Altamont piece after smoky air delayed his start around Labor Day. The artist said he often started work around 8 a.m. each morning, laying down the layers of spray paint that would become feather patterns of the flock beneath the highway.
“I think it was a record-breaking time, man,” Lopez said. “It was not normal.”
The work has already caught the eye of the neighborhood. Lopez said several passers-by complimented him on the work, and as he stood discussing his art earlier this week beneath the overpass, local photographer Rachel Fellows waited for an appointment with a model to snap some pictures with the birds as backdrop.
“The colors are really vibrant,” Fellows said. “It’s, like, begging to be photographed.”
Spokane Arts has planned a public dedication ceremony at the site of the mural at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Huggins said. Lopez said he’ll take some time after completing his work to reflect, and possibly take a flight out of Spokane for the winter so that he can continue to practice his craft.
“I broke myself for three weeks straight to get this thing going,” he said.
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