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July 23, 2013 > Muralist paints "Faces of Hayward"

Muralist paints "Faces of Hayward"

By M. J. Laird

Hayward High School art teacher and muralist Andrew Kong Knight is spending his summer painting the faces of his community on utility boxes along Hesperian Boulevard from the Union City border to north of Kennedy Park. A graffiti-prevention and city-beautification project rolled into one, the larger than life portraits depict living Hayward residents - people who aren't making headline news - yet portray the fabric of the city.

Knight is choosing residents who range in age from young to old and represent ethnicities that comprise today's Hayward population. "These are the people who live, work, play, and go to school in Hayward. Most murals and billboards include only famous people or professional models," explains Knight. "'Faces of Hayward' is unique to our city because it spotlights real people, the very people, young and old, who make up our unique city."

A Hayward native who graduated from James Logan High School where, as a student, he painted a performing arts mural that reflected his classmates, Knight has chosen subjects from people he has met. By early July, he had painted Steve Clem, who owns and operates Authority Painting and stepped up to help Knight varnish all three "Hayward Meets Hollywood" murals in downtown Hayward. Clem is painted on a 5' by 3' utility box on a street where he has painted several houses.

Knight had also painted Hayward High School graduate and art student Yohana Russom and another teen, Andrea Davila, a friend of one of his students, plus soccer coach Alex Ortega, and Hayward High School senior Christian Mendoza. Ortega and Mendoza are painted on boxes near Oliver Sports Park where they practiced soccer. Knight is currently seeking a Mt. Eden student to paint on a utility box near that school.

While the portraits are inspired by a real person, Knight hopes Hayward residents will see the beautification project as representing the city's spirit, vitality, and talent. By the time school starts in late August, he expects to have completed 20 larger-than-life portraits.

An art teacher for 18 years, Knight has painted a number of community murals, including Hayward's largest - the 3,500 square-foot "Gateway" project on Foothill Boulevard at Maple Court - unveiled in 2010, depicting present day Hayward with trails and views of San Francisco Bay, flora and fauna that can be found in the area. The project was a year in the making, followed by the three-story towering art deco "Hayward Meets Hollywood" on a parking structure near B Street Cinema Place.

Knight says this year's "Faces of Hayward" project has led to an unusual experience - much more contact with the public as he paints; in his earlier work, he towered above the street. Painting on utility boxes puts him at ground level, often eyeball-to-eyeball with people who stop to watch him work. Some drive by in their cars, do a double-take, shift the car in reverse, and stop to watch. Others drive by honking with thumbs up or yelling from their car windows, "beautiful," "great work," and "keep it up." Some drivers get out of their cars and pour out heart-wrenching stories of loved ones they have lost recently and a desire to have their faces live on the utility boxes. Knight tries to console them and explain this project calls for Hayward residents who are still living, and is not for memorializing.

With the project funded through the Hayward Public Art Mural Program that began in 2009 to curb graffiti, Knight says the reports he has read indicate a 95 percent success rate. "It's an unspoken word on the street not to tag a mural," explains Knight. "It's just an agreement on the street, not to touch each other's work."

Knight painted his first mural as a young teen in his Hayward bedroom, transforming first one wall, then another. Chosen from among 15 students in the U.S. to attend a world Suzuki violin convention in Germany, Knight returned to paint an alpine view with distant snow-capped mountains looking out from Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria built by a king known as Mad Ludwig II. His bedroom mural came to mind as he painted the "Gateway" mural.

As a teen, Knight was fortunate to find a mentor, connecting with East Bay artist Daniel Galvez, who has created murals across the nation in New York City, Cambridge, Washington, D.C., and other urban areas, including his home city of Oakland. Traveling after school and weekends on BART to watch Galvez as he painted, Knight thinks that the Hayward faces murals may have its roots there, since he had watched Galvez create portraits amid his community murals.

Later when Knight was asked to create a mural and allow all 500 plus students of Strobridge Elementary School in Castro Valley to participate, he consulted with another muralist, Susan Cervantes, a pioneer of the San Francisco community art movement and a founder of Precita Eyes Muralists in San Francisco's Mission District. Cervantes has been involved in more than 400 murals during her nearly 50 years as an artist.

In a remarkable event for him, Knight will be showcased along side his mentors in the Adobe Art Center's "Three Generations of Bay Area Mural Painting" that opens Saturday, July 27 at the Castro Valley Gallery. A two-hour reception with the artists begins at noon on July 27th with artists responding to questions from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Knight's response to show? "I'm humbled... Susan has welcomed and helped so many artists like myself embrace the world of mural painting. She is a great inspiration and mentor to me."

When he recalls the impact of Galvez, Knight instantly thinks of the towering portraits on walls and freeway underpasses. "I was inspired... and completely blown away by the size of these beautiful figures and how he captured the shining spirits of the people..."

"I just feel very honored to be featured in a showing with works from two of my legendary muralist heroes, people I have admired since I was a kid."

Knight will perform at Hayward's Fire Station 1 with his musical trio, Knights on Fire, for Hayward's Walk of Wine.

Three Generations of Bay Area Mural Painting
July 27 - September 7
Thursday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 27
12 noon to 2 p.m.

Adobe Art Gallery
20395 San Miguel Ave., Castro Valley
(510) 881-6735

Photo Caption: Andrew Kong Knight with Yohana Russom, an art student of his who just graduated this year (2013).

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