UCSB alumnus paints murals to transform and uplift
From UCSB track and field coach to world traveler to well-known mural artist, Gus Harper has left his mark in many places around the world.
Including right here in Santa Barbara.
The artist is best known in the city for “Sojourners Mural” at 126 E. Haley St., a vibrant, 23- by 100-foot abstract piece representing personal connections between humans and their environment.
“That one was inspired by my childhood,” Mr. Harper told the News-Press. “It’s a celebration of our collective spiritual journey. It’s got these different colored columns that represent different chapters in our lives.”
The huge mural took him two weeks to complete and won him 2018’s Hugh & Marjorie Petersen Award for Art in Public Places.
The 48-year-old Santa Monica native began his own journey as an artist as a little kid, watching his artist mother work. He studied art and pre-law at UCSB, and became the assistant track and field coach.
All the while, he painted at his studio at Santa Monica Airport.
“I had this dream of being an artist,” he said. “When I wasn’t working, I spent time in my home, painting. I did that until I had enough work to start making a living as an artist, and I haven’t done anything else since.”
Mr. Harper had dipped his toes into mural painting, but a trip to Nepal solidified his passion for this large-scale artwork.
“In the city, I saw this wall and I thought, ‘That’d be cool to make a mural there,’ and then as soon as I thought that, it overwhelmed me. I was so bummed out because it was such a good idea,” he said. “I ended up being back in Nepal, and I planned on painting murals all over.”
So he did.
A six-month trip around the world turned into two years of traveling, and he painted at least one mural in each country, from Nepal to Sri Lanka to India to Thailand to Burbank to Malaysia.
In addition, he has pieces in Santa Monica, Silver Lake, Culver City and Malibu.
The artist said he’s most proud of his massive, 18- by 600-foot mural in Malibu on the wall of a former juvenile detention center that he painted completely freehand. The piece has bright colors, much like his Santa Barbara mural, but features a giant buffalo skull.
Mr. Harper said his goal with the Malibu mural was “to make it look happy and not like a foreboding, scary wall.” He aimed to transform the building from a negative vibe to a positive one.
The artist is planning another mural in Santa Barbara, at the Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center on Gutierrez Street. He described it as more of an interior mural, inside the nursery’s courtyard.
“It’s going to be super vibrant like the one on Haley, with floral imagery and lots of blues,” Mr. Harper said.
The seasoned painter said he hopes each mural transforms the area surrounding it, and instills happiness in its viewers.
“Even though I cover a variety of subject matters and a lot of issues, I always hope my work is uplifting.”