Cool utility box artwork around San Diego.

Cool utility box on Bankers Hill shows tall buildings on planet Earth.
Cool utility box in Hillcrest shows tall buildings on planet Earth.

During my walks about San Diego, I spy all sorts of cool art on utility boxes and electrical transformers. Most of the painted artwork is super creative and colorful. You never know what you’ll find!

Little Italy art on utility box shows boats beneath windows.
Little Italy art on utility box shows boats in water beneath row of windows.
Fish and fishermen are big themes on Little Italy utility boxes.
Fish and fishermen are big themes on Little Italy utility boxes.
Tropical beach island scene on a fun Gaslamp utility box.
Tropical beach island scene on a fun, eye-catching Gaslamp utility box.
Soft and peaceful beach image on this Imperial Beach utility box.
Soft and peaceful beach image on this Imperial Beach utility box.
Cool abstract face on an imaginative Hillcrest utility box.
Cool abstract face on an imaginative Hillcrest utility box.
Some large utility boxes in Hillcrest feature various fruit and vegetables.
Some large utility boxes in Hillcrest feature photos of fruits and vegetables.
This Hillcrest electrical transformer has a big blue eye.
This Hillcrest electrical transformer has a bold blue eye.
East Village utility box art vandalized with angry words.
East Village utility box art has been vandalized with angry words.
Very colorful artwork on an East Village transformer.
Very colorful artwork on an East Village transformer.

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Iconic downtown sculpture changes color again!

Fountain of Two Oceans sculpture in front of Wells Fargo building in downtown San Diego.
Fountain of Two Oceans sculpture in front of Wells Fargo building in downtown San Diego.

Perhaps you recall my blog post from early in the summer, where I was astonished at how the Fountain of Two Oceans sculpture in front of downtown’s Wells Fargo building had suddenly turned white! Well, yesterday I saw it has changed colors once again!

I’m guessing a number of people found the weird, mottled white color unattractive.  (Personally, I thought it was ghastly.)  Today, the human figures appear bronze again, but much darker than before, without the heavily tarnished surface. In my opinion, this is a big improvement.  What do you think?

Before the figures were painted white:

Bronze nudes of Sergio Benvenuti’s Fountain of Two Oceans.
Bronze nudes of Sergio Benvenuti’s Fountain of Two Oceans.

Painted white, possibly to resemble marble:

Fountain of Two Oceans sculpture suddenly becomes white!
Fountain of Two Oceans sculpture suddenly becomes white!

Now much darker, matching the fountain’s base:

The reclining human figures today have a very dark bronze appearance!
The reclining human figures today have a dark, new bronze appearance!

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A big city painted with small brushstrokes.

Young man with skateboard paints for donations on a San Diego sidewalk.
Young man with skateboard paints for donations on a San Diego sidewalk.

Once in a while my walks around San Diego take me past artists painting scenes from the big city. The artists might be working outside alone in a scenic or interesting place; or I might stumble upon a small crowd of art students working on many easels in a row. I love to pause and look over a shoulder for a few moments. I’m awed by human creativity.

Here are just a few pics that you might enjoy…

An artist in Balboa Park's Spanish Village works on a canvas in the colorful courtyard.
Artist in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village works on a canvas in the colorful courtyard.
A painted guitarist seems to emerge from sunny San Diego dappled brightness.
A painted guitarist seems to emerge from the sunny San Diego dappled brightness.
An artist works next to Tuna Harbor as many people stroll past.
An artist works next to Tuna Harbor as many people stroll past.
Painter on the Embarcadero inspired by Tuna Harbor boats and reflections.
Painter on the Embarcadero inspired by picturesque boats and reflections.
Small painted boat seems to float in the nearby rippled water.
Small painted boat seems to float in the nearby rippled water.

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Amazing modern masterpieces visit San Diego.

Visitors near beautiful entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Visitors near entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Yesterday morning was super special. I was able to experience dozens of amazing fine art masterpieces firsthand!

My friend Catherine Jones, a docent at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, very graciously provided me and a friend with a special tour. We were given an in-depth look at the landmark Gauguin to Warhol exhibit, being shown for a limited time in San Diego.

Follow me into the world-class San Diego Museum of Art, and we’ll check out a few of these stunning paintings together!

Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more...
Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more…
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!

Gauguin to Warhol: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is an exhibit containing dozens of true masterpieces from many of the world’s most famous modern painters. Artists with important pieces on display include Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein .

The exhibit is a whirlwind journey through time, progressing from Impressionism in the late 18th Century to Post-impressionism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and finally Pop Art in the 1960s. One can follow the emergence and evolution of major art movements over eight decades–and observe how visual abstraction, experimentation and provocative simplicity took a greater and greater hold on the imaginations of many great artists.

These fantastic paintings all come from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. San Diego is the exclusive West Coast stop for this traveling exhibition.

(The following descriptions and reactions were formed in my own muddled human brain, and notes were taken only sporadically. I’m not even close to being an art expert, so take everything I say with a very large grain of salt!)

Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A few steps after we admire a fine example of classic Impressionism, the 1890 Peasants in the Fields by Camille Pissarro, we are stopped in our tracks by a stunning masterpiece by Paul Gauguin. It’s the instantly recognizable Spirit of the Dead Watching, painted in 1892.

Spirit of the Dead Watching was created during Gauguin’s residence in Tahiti. It depicts his young wife Tehura, awakened by a frightening dream. A nightmarish figure with a mask-like face sits at the foot of her bed, seemingly a dark omen.

The bright, gauzy, fine daubs of paint of the earlier Impressionist movement seem to have given way to broad, unabashed swaths of rich color. The elements in this Post-Impressionist image appear two-dimensional; objects depicted seem to have become bold, emotionally colored symbols, rather than more-realistic objects given depth using traditional perspective.

The Spirit of the Dead Watching is both uniquely beautiful and disturbing, not unlike a few of the canvases to come on our tour.

Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Another few steps and we are looking at Pablo Picasso’s La Toilette, painted in 1906 just before his well-known innovations with Cubism.

The two women depicted are different views by Picasso of the same model. The painting seems to be mostly about lustrous, subtle color and soft, slightly angular shapes. It struck me that fusing the two figures, with their simple faces and forms, would result in a sort of Cubist composite creation. Perhaps we see the gears slowly turning in Picasso’s creative mind.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The masterpiece that I enjoyed most–because it’s just so indescribably magical–is Van Gogh’s The Old Mill, from 1888, another fine example of Post-Impressionism. Thick smears of paint and bold brush strokes of light give the painting strange depth and glowing solidity, in spite of its greatly simplified, almost crude representation of a country scene. I felt like I had entered a magical landscape, located somewhere between a gleaming dream and a warm, everyday experience. To me, it’s a piece of art that would never grow old.

Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here we see the emergence of Surrealism. And this masterpiece is by the ever popular Salvador Dalí!

The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, is one of Dalí’s most iconic works. It’s mysterious, strange and stimulates thought. What do the various elements in the design represent? Is that a bowl of mashed potatoes with gravy on a table with a napkin, or is that a lake nestled between mountains? The onlooker isn’t quite sure if the painting is primarily fun or symbolic, or a depiction of the unconscious, or sublime reality. Abstraction has surely taken hold of the artist’s vision, as the scene is a complete departure from ordinary experience.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s impressive Self-Portrait With Monkey, painted in 1938, is said to be Surrealist. To me it appears more like a beautifully colorful Post-Impressionist Gauguin. According to Wikipedia: “Frida rejected the “surrealist” label; she believed that her work reflected more of her reality than her dream.”

Gazing at this one portrait, I understand her assertion. Apart from one canvas in the exhibit, a depiction of fleshy, bloody butchered meat, this painting seems more solidly lifelike and ripe with organic truth than any other work that I recall seeing.

Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

I also love this one! La Musique, by Henri Matisse in 1939, is the sort of joyful, broadening, invigorating style of art that I personally like. Catherine pointed out that the lady on the left is very prim and composed, but the wild lady on the right is the type you’d want to date! Exactly right! The hands and feet are wonderfully twisted and elongated as if they’re swimming within splashes of swirling color and music!

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Jackson Pollock today is recognized as a master of Abstract Expressionism. His unique drip paintings are unmistakeable. And his Convergence from 1952 nearly covers an entire museum wall!

Okay, perhaps I’m an ignoramus and a dullard. To me this style of painting seems a bit random, cynical, and a thumb in the eye of earlier, more skillful artistic styles. Several of the canvases in this portion of gallery struck me in a similar way.  The absurdly huge creations of these famous Abstract Expressionists seem more than experimental–they seem despondent, angry, nihilistic and disillusioned–perhaps a reaction to the massive chaos and inhumanity of two world wars in the early 20th Century. But I do appreciate Pollock’s artful balance, his dynamic strands of color, and the peculiar, imposing beauty that has resulted!

Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here’s one painting that is absolutely disturbing. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a short horror story by Poe, or above the mantle in a cobwebby haunted house! As if penetrating the dark recesses of the human subconscious, Francis Bacon’s unsettling Man With Dog, 1954, seems to portray the bottom of a shadowy figure being resisted by a featureless, spectral hound attracted to a sewer grate. This painting definitely succeeds in bringing out a strong feeling of unfocused loathing. If the aim of art is to stir the emotions, this piece is triumphant!

Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A manic jumble of impulsive, uncertain emotions in two dimensions seems to compose Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist Gotham News, completed in 1955. Flesh tones and slightly organic shapes are intermixed with the angled, heavy lines of a large city’s architecture, looking to my eye like stained glass put into a blender. Energy and spasmodic randomness seem to convey no clear artistic notion, nor rouse any one particular emotion. It’s just a big mixture of complex energy!  Perhaps that was the artist’s intent!

Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

An Andy Warhol response to modernism, his iconic 100 Cans was painted in 1962. Since then, the Pop Art image of multiple Campbell’s Soup cans has spread and mutated throughout the popular culture.

Is this painting a celebration of unrepentant commercialism, or a resigned condemnation? Is he asking the fundamental question: What is art? Or is it just his affirmation that an increasingly technological and global culture has changed life forever, and that art has become something of a commodity? I’ve heard arguments on every side.

The original painting is hanging on a wall at the San Diego Museum of Art! See it for yourself and decide!

The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.
The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.

This truly special, eye-opening exhibit, Gauguin to Warhol, can be enjoyed at the San Diego Museum of Art through January 27, 2015.

It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really appreciate these many great masterpieces. If you can, go see it!

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Founders of Balboa Park linger in Sefton Plaza.

Kate Sessions, the Mother of Balboa Park, holds a pine cone by the grass.
Kate Sessions, the Mother of Balboa Park, holds a pine cone by the grass.

Balboa Park is bursting with cool sights wherever you go. If you’ve ever driven or walked along El Prado a short distance west of the Cabrillo Bridge, you’ve probably seen some slightly larger than life sculptures of people standing on either side of the street. Sefton Plaza, located at the intersection of El Prado and Balboa Drive, is the location of these four bronze sculptures.

On the south side stands a representation of horticulturist Kate Sessions holding a trowel and pine cone. Often called the Mother of Balboa Park, she was instrumental in creating the park’s many lush gardens and groves of trees. The sculpture stands among a variety of beautiful plants including species she introduced in the early years of the park.

The three lifelike sculptures on the north side of Sefton Plaza, an area called Founder’s Plaza, represent Ephraim Morse, Alonzo Horton and George Marston. These three were the visionaries who orginally conceived Balboa Park, then worked tirelessly to create it.

Ephraim Morse, an early settler and promoter of San Diego, and Alonzo Horton, a land speculator responsible for downtown San Diego’s current location, proposed in 1868 that the new city park occupy 1,400 acres. The sheer size of the park was simply amazing, considering San Diego at the time had a mere 2,300 residents! George Marston, often called the Father of Balboa Park, was a prominent department store owner who personally funded the park’s design. To turn the grand vision into reality, he hired the former superintendent of New York City’s Central Park, Samuel B. Parsons Jr. The park’s construction began in 1903 at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Date Street. (Just a three minute walk from where I live! I love it!)

The four wonderfully realistic bronze sculptures were created by local artist Ruth Hayward. She intentionally made them about 10% larger than life, so they’d appear slightly imposing.

Balboa Park, which began as a grand idea in the minds of just a few people, today is the nation’s largest urban cultural park!

During her life, Kate Sessions created gardens and landscapes for all to enjoy.
During her life, Kate Sessions created gardens and landscapes for all to enjoy.
Bronze sculpture stands on footpath between Cabrillo Bridge and Sixth Avenue.
Kate Sessions lingers on footpath between Cabrillo Bridge and Sixth Avenue.
More pine cones fill a shallow box at Kate Sessions' booted feet.
More pine cones fill a shallow box at Kate Sessions’ booted feet.
Lifelike sculptures of Ephraim Morse and Alonzo Horton in Founder's Plaza.
Lifelike sculptures of Ephraim Morse and Alonzo Horton in Founder’s Plaza.
Two of Balboa Park's early advocates survey their awesome creation.
Two of Balboa Park’s early advocates survey their awesome creation.
Founders Plaza gifted to the James Dayton North Family 1868.
Founders Plaza gifted to the James Dayton North Family 1868.
Near Morse and Horton, George Marston sits on a wall, enjoying the surrounding beauty.
Near Morse and Horton, George Marston sits on a wall, enjoying the surrounding beauty.
George Marston is remembered today as the Father of Balboa Park.
George Marston is remembered today as the Father of Balboa Park.
Bronze sculpture sits comfortably next to its hat by a small pool of water.
Bronze sculpture sits comfortably next to its hat by a small pool of water.

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Awesome street art on a little old building.

Elaborate figure's arm embraces a building window. Art by Zio Ziegler.
Elaborate figure’s arm embraces a building window in San Diego. Art by Zio Ziegler.

There’s one little old building in a corner of downtown San Diego that’s very difficult to miss. That’s because it’s loaded with ultra-awesome street art!

These murals are painted on an otherwise unremarkable structure in the East Village neighborhood. The building is occupied by Undisputed Fitness, an establishment where locals train themselves as boxers and MMA fighters. All this artwork is visible near the corner of 16th Street and L Street.

My last blog post concerned a mechanical shark mural. You can see the rear portion of that mural in the final photograph.

Smiling face painted on building wall on 16th Street in East Village.
Smiling face painted on building wall on 16th Street in East Village.
Fantastic composite creature with pink hammerhead cradles a shark.
Fantastic composite creature with wings and pink hammerhead cradles a shark.
Nearby shark art for PangeaSeed's The Great Coast Migration by Rah Akaishi.
Previous pic’s shark art was created for PangeaSeed by Rah Akaishi.
Closet full of clothes opens onto a city sidewalk.
Closet full of clothes opens onto a city sidewalk.
Mr. Padre mural along rooftop honors Tony Gwynn. Art by Wildstyle Technicians.
Mr. Padre mural on rooftop honors baseball legend Tony Gwynn. Art by Wildstyle Technicians.
I Love San Diego cool design is visually complex. Art by Ezra Pirk.
I Love San Diego cool graffiti design is visually complex. Art by Ezra Pirk.
Bold, colorful street art on walls of parking lot behind Undisputed Fitness.
Bold, colorful street art on walls of parking lot behind Undisputed Fitness.

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Cool mechanical shark street mural in East Village!

Cool mechanical shark on parking lot wall behind Undisputed Fitness Center in East Village.
Cool mechanical shark on parking lot wall behind Undisputed Fitness Center in East Village.

A super cool street mural was recently painted in downtown San Diego’s East Village. I checked it out this morning!

Located on a parking lot wall behind Undisputed Fitness, at the corner of 16th Street and L Street, this large work of art really catches your attention and draws you in for a closer examination!

The image of a mechanical shark, operated from the inside by some sinister-looking people, was painted by Sheffield-based muralist Phlegm. I’ve never seen his work before, but apparently he often depicts similarly weird scenes, described as half-childlike, half-menacing. This particular mural was created as an act of “artivism” for PangeaSeed, an international environmental organization whose mission is to help preserve sharks and other marine species, through art and education. Sharks are being maimed and killed in large numbers for their fins, which are cut off the still-living animals and used to make shark fin soup and traditional medical cures in China.

Street artist Phlegm painted this for PangeaSeed’s Sea Walls Murals for Oceans.
Street artist Phlegm painted this unusual shark  for PangeaSeed’s Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans.
Shadowy, mysterious people secretly operate the black and white mechanical shark.
Shadowy, mysterious people secretly operate the black and white mechanical shark.
Phlegm often paints masked figures controlling odd contraptions in this illustrative style.
Phlegm often paints masked figures controlling odd contraptions in this illustrative style.

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