These 12 murals make you happy to be in Downtown Tucson
Local Tucsonans know – and visitors to Tucson quickly discover – Tucson is brimming with wonderful, fantastic murals. In this article I share a selection of my photos of murals from more than a dozen different artists: Ignacio Garcia, Rock Martinez, Cristina Perez, Fin DAC, Joe Pagac, Kati Astraeir, Lex Gjurasic, Danny Martin, Steve Farley, Salvador Duran, Gary Patch, Darren Clark, Luis Mena, Isaac Caruso, and Joel Valdez. Many of these artists’ works are located in Downtown Tucson. Tucson’s downtown murals highlight each artist’s creativity and reflect so much of our awesome regional and desert flavor. Note: a dozen photos are from 2019; photos of three powerful new Black Lives Matter murals were added in June 2020.
Art on a large scale
A mural is a painting or other work of art completed directly on a wall. The wall of the building becomes the artist’s canvas. When done on the exterior of the building, and especially when visible to the general public from the street, building and street murals provide visual enjoyment and can collectively play a role in helping to visually define what the community is all about.
Street and Building Murals in and around Downtown Tucson
As one looks at the street and building murals in and around Downtown Tucson, visitors quickly get a sense for the city.
Vibrant color. Desert animals and plants. Sunsets. People of many ethnic backgrounds. History. Change. Love. Kindness. Humor.
Bill Walton Riding a Jackalope
Ignacio Garcia © 2016 This humorous depiction of a sports celebrity riding a mythical jackalope enlivens a wall that is part of the back of the Rialto Theater. It is 45’x 40’, and was funded by the Tohono O’Odham Nation and Visit Tucson. As Ignacio explains in this interview, the original plan was to include a little girl, but folks at the Rialto suggested Bill Walton, a TV announcer and retired basketball player.
Goddess of Agave
Rock Martinez, assisted by Cristina Perez© 2016. This massive mural is on the west-facing wall of the Tucson Warehouse Supply Building, at 440 N. 7Th Ave, Tucson. It is 50’ x 54’, and was funded by the Tohono O’Odham Natio and Visit Tucson. The story is the woman is the girlfriend of the artist. The plants include agave cactus, cactus blossoms, and what appear to be cholla cactus buds.
Fin DAC © 2016. Find this stunning piece on a west-facing wall at 178 East Broadway, a historic building previously known as the Hotel Lewis. Fin DAC is from Ireland, and travels around the world and “paints women of East Asian cultures with the intention of breaking stereotypes surrounding women in that culture”. Amazing detail in her eyes & braided hair. Is that a tattoo on her arm? It reads “Forget Me Not”. There is a subtle design in the green background, too. I like how the window almost becomes an upper arm bracelet. Street Art News has a nice compilation of works by Fin DAC.
Steve Farley photo tile murals on Broadway
These “murals” are made from a process invented by Steve Farley. Black and white photos from 1930 – 1960 are printed onto glazed ceramic tiles, and then affixed to the wall. “Windows of the Past, Gateway to the Future”. More tileography works by Steve Farley.
Gary Patch and Darren Clark © 2008. Gary and Darren first walked around at different Tucson events and the University of Arizona and took 4” by 4” shots of people. Their goal was to get at least 7,000 people! (Apparently they did). People who participated even got photos of pets – I’ve spotted dogs, cats, and even a rooster. These photos are printed onto tiles and displayed at both ends of the Fourth Avenue Underpass.
Joe Pagac murals in Downtown Tucson
The first time I recall seeing Joe Pagac’s work I was standing in line at a Trader Joe’s. Several murals hang on the wall depicting scenes of the Tucson area. One fantastic scene features a joyful ox leaping into the air while pulling a covered wagon. Another scene features Old Main at the University of Arizona, with Joe in one of his earlier incarnations.
Shortly thereafter, Laura Tanzer had a very small designer studio in the Warehouse Arts district. This was an old building with wood floors, no heating, no air conditioning. It was a funky place! In the back was a photo studio shared with a marketing company. Across the hallway from Laura was a mural artist with a studio. Bumped into him a few times. His name: Joe Pagac.
Much of Joe’s work is contains humor, as well as whimsical fantasy. Surrealism. Most of Joe’s murals have a Tucson flavor, and commonly feature our local animals, plants, and sunsets.
Joe Pagac © 2017 This is a 4,000 square foot mural on a south-facing wall at the corner of 6th Street and Stone Avenue, just north of the Stone Avenue underpass. Joe, many Tucsonans, and many of Tucson’s visitors are fond of cycling. In this dreamscape, our favorite local javelina, tortoise, and jackalope are also huge fans of epic bike rides! This is a must-see mural. I especially love the transformation of the mountains and cactus, the stars in the woman’s hair.
Harboring Beauty Mural
Joe Pagac © 2017 Most folks refer to this as “Finding Nemo”, as it contains cute orange clown fish with various undersea protectors. Fun Fact: Joe paid homeless men and women to pose for the mural. “The concept is something perceived as ugly harboring something beautiful inside and protecting it,” Pagac said. Located on the East-facing wall at 191 E. Toole Ave.
Most of these mural pictures were taken in early 2019. COVID hit the world in 2020, and here in the USA the death of George Floyd truly brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront. Change is in the air! The upcoming concerts marquee at 191 E. Toole was updated in June 2020:
Maynard’s Market & Kitchen
Joe Pagac. Three vignettes from the early 1900’s, of people dining at tables by the window of the historic train depot. Maynards is on the East end of the building. Head West about 40 paces and you will pass Maynard’s Market, Amtrak Tucson Station, and arrive at Laura Tanzer Atelier. Further West you will find the train museum and historic steam locomotive #1673 from the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Prince Purple Rain mural
East face of the Rialto Theatre on Congress.
Anthony Bourdain by Danny Martin
The artwork in this space changes periodically, often featuring Danny Martin or Joe Pagac artwork related to upcoming bands and artists appearing at the Rialto Theatre. Walk West on Congress to find another mural also depicting Anthony Bourdain, at the Ten55 Sausage and Brewing House.
Black Lives Matter
Starting in June 2020, the Black Lives Matter mural by Robbie Lee Harris now adorns the East face of the Rialto Theatre.
The black community in the USA has been especially hard-hit by the Coronavirus. Camila painted this amazing Black Lives Matter mural, featuring a black woman with COVID mask, in the days following the death of George Floyd. North face of the Hotel Congress, at Congress and Toole.
Girl With Candle
Joel Valdez © 2018 is the artist behind this mural! Rock Martinez was assisting him on it. It’s a work in progress and this is what it currently looks like.
Kati Astraeir © 2016 This mural honors America’s only known jaguar, “El Jefe”, and is part of a series of Endangered Species murals. Located on the East-facing side of the Solar Culture complex.
While you are checking our El Jefe, walk North on 7th Avenue, cross the train tracks, and check out the back (North face) of the Borderlands Brewery / Playformance building. You will see another large mural “Borderlands”, by Joe Pagac. Everyone is depicted wearing a costume from an animal or a plant. It’s very surreal, and wonderfully Tucson.
Salvador Duran, artist and musician. According to 2010 interview in the Tucson Weekly, Duran was en-route to Vancouver when he passed through Tucson. Like so many of us, he liked Tucson, and stayed. North-facing wall on Broadway at 6th.
Coronado’s Search For The 7 Cities of Gold
Luis Mena © 2000 As you get off the highway and head East on Broadway, this mural shows a Native American and Spanish conquistadors looking for gold. North-facing wall at 179 W Broadway.
Sacred Heart of Tucson
Lex Gjurasic © 2016. West-facing wall of Café 45 on Pennington. Public art commissioned by the City of Tucson, as part of the City of Tucson Mural Program with a grant from the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Quail and Oranges
Isaac Caruso © 2016 A blue quail, and some citrus. 9 N. Scott Avenue.
Art On Wheels
A great way to see all these murals, and more, is on bike. Pick up one of these handy pocket maps at the Library in downtown, and many local bike shops!
Next time I’ll write about murals on Fourth Avenue and beyond Downtown.
Update: In early 2020, the City of Tucson has created an online interactive map of Tucson murals.
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