My name is Ricky Watts. I'm a Sonoma County artist working on a project to paint the five-story, south wall of the historic Phoenix Theater. This mural is in collaboration with the Petaluma Art Center, for the exhibit Cosmic Terrain, featuring the works of MARS-1, Oliver Vernon and Damon Soule, opening April 4. Upon completion, this will be the largest mural ever painted in Petaluma.
The Phoenix Theater is special to me. I grew up in Petaluma and am a product of the Phoenix, as are hundreds of other teens and young adults. The Phoenix offers an all-ages, after-school venue for youths to hang out and express themselves through music, art and skateboarding. It also serves as a teen clinic, offers tutoring and is well-known for its live music events. I painted some of my earliest murals inside the Phoenix and I credit theater manager Tom Gaffey for giving me the wall space to practice my craft and help me become the artist I am today.
Painting this mural is not only a way for me to give back to the Phoenix Theater and the community, but an encouragement to local youth to pursue their passion, never stop believing in their dreams. I am proof the Phoenix is a positive, vital place for young people.
The Phoenix’s Board of Directors has approved the project, required city permits are being processed and the crane lift is reserved. However, funding it is not an option for the theater. Rather than give up, I want to raise the necessary funding. Your contribution can make this mural a reality and brighten this famous downtown landmark. I'm raising $5,500 to cover the cost of materials, equipment and living expenses during the painting.
What the wall currently looks like:
The mock-up of the proposed mural. Keep in mind, this is photoshopped image of a painting previously created. It is not the finished mural but it gives the viewer a conceptual idea of what the transformed wall will look like:
About Cosmic Terrain
New Visions Become a Part of the Petaluma Landscape
April 4 – June 2; Reception April 13
Cosmic Terrain shows at the Petaluma Art Center in the spring of 2013. The Arts Center galleries feature the 2D and 3D work of San Francisco artists MARS-1, Oliver Vernon and Damon Soule of the Further Collective. They are delivering a spellbinding collection of paintings and sculpture revealing new thoughts, insights and stories now emerging from current scientific understandings and collective interactions facilitated by new technology.
At a second venue, painter and muralist Ricky Watts will transform the massive south wall of the Phoenix Theater with a vibrant, rhythmic mural, undulating with colors in a field of interweaving wave patterns. Watts is rooted in Petaluma and becoming increasingly recognized in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. His large-scale work was featured as the primary design of one of the stages at last summer’s Outside Lands Music Festival.
The art represented in Cosmic Terrain is the product of a vibrant subculture that constellates in tribes and communicates in fast, highly networked ways. This allows for movement like a flock of birds making exuberant and spontaneous gestures of flight. The elements of the show will make every attempt to reflect and move with the stream of energy rising up from our Bay Area hub in the new global mix. Besides painting, there will be sculpture, video, ambient sound, performance, music and live painting events. For more information, visit PetalumaArtsCenter.org
About the Phoenix Theater
Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater has a century of colorful and varied history. From opera house to movie theater to rock ‘n’ roll venue and teen center, the Phoenix has repeatedly emerged from the ashes, recreating itself as a valuable community resource.
The rare old bird of a theater began as a small town opera house. Opened in 1905 as the Hill Opera House, its stage was graced by the likes of magician Harry Houdini, operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, and actress Lily Langtry.
In the roaring ‘20s the building was gutted by fire, but rose again as a movie theater in 1925, two years before The Jazz Singer brought sound to popular film. It became the California Theater in 1935 and for decades offered movies to local audiences.
Fire struck again in 1957, this time destroying the ceiling, but once again the Phoenix returned to life, this time as the Showcase Theater. The owner hired a teenager named Tom Gaffey, who was fond of hanging around the building with friends. Gaffey left Petaluma to travel, but when he returned in 1982, the new owner hired him as manager of the Phoenix Theater, for its ability to rise from the ashes.
During the early 1980s the Phoenix augmented film screenings with late night shows from nationally known bands, including the Ramones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and X. Local bands like then-unknown Metallica and Primus polished their acts during these gigs.
Over the years, the Phoenix grew in popularity with local teens. It wasn’t just the music; Gaffey opened the doors in the afternoon to kids who might otherwise be on the streets or at an empty home. The Phoenix became a haven: a safe place to spend unstructured time with peers, around a responsible adult who understood, respected and supported them—one who had grown up in the same environment.
The Phoenix occasionally pulled duty for other events. It was a popular venue for midnight screenings of cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and in 2000, hosted the World’s Wristwrestling Championship.
What fire could not accomplish was almost achieved in the late 1990s when the landlord announced plans to sell the Phoenix. Plans were to demolish and replace it with an office building. The community rallied but there was little they could do and for a while it seemed the venerable Phoenix was doomed.
The sale was in escrow when four employees of Cerent Corporation (all four musicians, and two former Phoenix patrons), stepped forward and took over the escrow. The four recently had been enriched from a dot com buyout by Cisco Systems. With other prominent citizens, they formed the non-profit Petaluma Phoenix Center, Inc, to own the Phoenix Theater and grow the services it provides to the community.
For more information about the Phoenix, visit ThePhoenixTheater.com
Risks and challenges
With close to 20 years experience painting large scale murals with aerosol spray paint, I am a veteran of the craft. That said, this is the largest wall I've taken on. The project has been a dream since I was a teenager and I’m eager to begin. My biggest challenge is the funding. Once that is complete, the fun of creating the mural begins.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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