Greg Brown

In the (San Francisco mid-peninsula) Daily Post on the 3rd: “Mural artist Greg Brown dies: He brightened up downtown with his amusing paintings” by Elaine Goodman:

Greg Brown, an artist whose whimsical paintings of burglars, space aliens and other creatures enlivened the sides of buildings throughout Palo Alto, has died [on August 29th, at the age of 62]

Brown’s murals are trompe-l’oeil fancies. Some have been destroyed, and others have been re-done at new locations, but a considerable number remain.

Four examples: the trashman, the milkman, the secret agent, and Rue du Chat qui Pêche (the first three on city streets, the last in the Stanford Shopping Center):





On the story of the murals, from, “The Greg Brown Murals: Public Art for All of Us” by Greg Bowling:

Government rarely puts forward a funny face. There’s obviously not much humor in your typical letter from the IRS or in the driver license renewal process, but public art and civic architecture also tend to be serious business. Monumental courthouses and statehouses with Corinthian columns, raking cornices, and heroic statues tend to superimpose a rather lofty expression on the face of government. And when it comes to public art, the powers that be often tilt toward modern sculptures that stand in front of city buildings with a kind of overblown gravity.

Perhaps it’s the wink at solemnity that’s the brilliance of the beloved Greg Brown murals. You’ll encounter them here and there in the nooks and crannies of Palo Alto. They are deceptively simple, funny and full of surprise – and over the years they have become part of the experience of living in Palo Alto. It’s heartening to know that our city government not only gave the initial approval for these murals but has tried to protect them over the years. When you can look up on a faceless concrete building in Palo Alto and see a mural of green aliens climbing up a stairway to hug a milkman-well, that’s the kind of city I want to live in.

… Palo Alto made art in public places a civic promise in 1975, but it was a federal jobs program that funded the early murals.

… Brown’s first mural in Palo Alto came in 1975, when as an artist in residence he earned $4.75 an hour decorating a wall of the Mitchell Park Skating Rink. Soon he was at work on the Palo Alto Pedestrian Series, a collection of trompe-l’oeil murals of aliens, pelicans, milkmen, regular folks and ne’er-do-wells.

… These days six of the original nine city commissions are still around to intrigue pedestrians and raise a smile. Along with several privately funded additions, the murals add to the pleasure of a city stroll and remind the busy, overstressed errand-runner to slow down­ and not take life too seriously. The murals catch you at odd moments. On the way into Restoration Hardware, you glimpse an older gentleman, possibly Spiro Agnew, pushing a baby alien in a stroller. On your way to withdraw cash at Comerica Bank, you notice that an alien ship has crash-landed into the side wall. And heading into the elevator at 261 Hamilton, you are startled by a man with an evil grin preparing to cut the elevator cables.

On trompe-l’oeil, from Wikipedia:

Trompe-l’œil (French for “deceive the eye”, …) is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.

Examples on Creative Bloq on 6/17/14: “22 amazing trompe l’oeil illusions”.

And on the Parisian street in #4, again from Wikipedia:

Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche is considered the narrowest street in Paris. It is only 1.80m (just under 5 feet, 11 inches) wide for the whole of its 29m length.

It is located in the 5th arrondissement, on the Rive Gauche of the Seine, and runs from Quai Saint-Michel to Rue de la Huchette

… In English the name means “Street of the Fishing Cat”. It was named after the picture on a shop sign.

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