I originally painted the panda mural in 2010 to cover up offensive graffiti on the Gazzam Lake water tower. Although I was concerned about making unsanctioned public art, I felt someone needed to take action to improve the look of the water tower, which was such an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful wooded walk.
The original inspiration for the mural was a “pass the picture” digital art game I was playing over email with an artist in the UK named “Bugdozer”, and I wanted to move from the computer into the real world while performing an act of artistic community service. Besides creating a cheery image for people of all ages to enjoy at Gazzam Lake, the mural had another great result in that Bugdozer and I were married in 2012.
Of course, there is always a risk with street art that it will be negatively-altered or suddenly gone. I painted a mural in Birmingham UK a few years ago that I absolutely loved that was completely covered over with a giant tag. After that, I decided unless there’s a real art emergency, I’m not doing more street art and I’ve focused on studio work. (I decided since writing this blog post that my mural being painted over does constitute and art emergency and I will remedy the situation as soon as I am back in the UK.)
There have been various alterations and additions to the panda over the years. Someone added a quick sharpie marker mustache to the panda ala Duchamp’s Mona Lisa, which I found very funny. That faded away over time and most of my original “extras” around the periphery have been painted over. I view it as a collaboration and continual work in progress and I don’t mind that, it’s how it goes in a public space.
The panda itself however was nearly obliterated two years ago and that was not ok with me. It was tagged several times [“TRUMP”] bigly with red spray paint (other artists stepped up and repaired it twice!) and then someone painted completely over the Bugdozer and half the panda’s body with black paint and with residual red spray paint on it’s face it looked pretty bad. Luckily, I was on Bainbridge Island at the time because if I hadn’t acted quickly to restore it, the panda might have been gone for good.
I was able to touch up the face, roughly restore most of the body and add a crystal ball place-holder where the bugdozer had been before I flew home to the UK, where I had several months to think about what changes might be made.
The panda and the bug are best friends, so it was important that the bug return. The original ‘dozer had a small, sparkling pink ball in it’s shovel which has now magically grown to replace the machinery. If one looks closely, the pink dots can be seen to spread out and around the water tower. Several restoration attempts during our rainy September washed away overnight. I did my best to respond to what other people have done on or near the panda and relate to the art around it. I have some more ideas that will have to wait for warmer, dryer weather next spring, so stay tuned!
Whenever I discuss street art and graffiti with anyone, especially young people, I believe it’s important to differentiate between positive street art that is creative and improves an area and negative vandalism that damages or destroys an area. One should never paint over nature, over pristine brick or rock or in a way that makes a place less beautiful.
Additional photos between 2011-2018 will be added to this gallery. The water tower has changed quite a bit over the years and I like to think the addition of the panda raised the bar and led to higher quality work there whereas it was just tags and pretty ugly before. The original mural there was a lovely collection of animals that could be found at Gazzam but by 2010 that had been destroyed by taggers and graffiti and was mainly unsalvageable.