Hollister mural is for the love of outdoor art

Adam Valentino works with spray paint on the mural Tuesday afternoon. The painting is covering the old used cars wall on San Felipe Road. Photo by Nick Lovejoy

The country-themed mural off San Benito Street in downtown Hollister started with a handwritten letter to a private property owner more than 600 miles away in Idaho.
That letter was written—not typed—by artist Phillip Orabuena “and I drew him a picture I think too,” he said with a laugh. The note asked for permission to paint the cement wall on the blighted property and to clean up the space.
Dave Buich, the owner of the vacant property that was formerly a used car lot on San Benito Street, said yes.
A band of three artists in their 20s and 30s—including Orabuena, 31; Joel Esqueda, 28; and Adam Valentino, 32—were taking their desire to beautify Hollister to private property so they could avoid bureaucracy.
“It’s a risky piece because it’s on private property and it could get sold like that,” said Rolan Resendiz, 36, Esqueda’s boyfriend, as he snapped his fingers.
The work is a collaboration of Orabuena, the lead artist of the Iraq War mural honoring veterans by the courthouse, and Esqueda, the muralist that led the painting of utility boxes across the city.
The scene featuring Holllister’s rolling hills and a barn with knotted wood, along with a woman and two men on horseback, stretches 11.5 feet tall and 69 feet wide, Esqueda said. It’s a site where transients pitch their tents and have been known to tell artists they are painting their living room. Sometimes, they offer constructive criticism, like Thursday, when one woman said the mural would be improved if it included a small grove of apricot trees.
Not one of the artists will be paid for their work. After the project started, the Community Foundation came forward and offered $500 of reimbursement for art supplies, though not all of it was for this project as Orabuena, for instance, is using acrylics, brushes and spray paint he already had, the artist explained.
“To me, it’s not about the money,” the muralist said.
Some people like to spend their money going to bars, seeing movies, or buying the newest cell phone, explained the muralist and veteran who served three tours in Iraq. For Orabuena, that release is art.
“We’ll I’m spending money this way to enjoy myself,” he said. “They just don’t see it that way. They’re not artists.”
The muralists plan to complete the work by the end of the month, though their progress will be affected by rain and work schedules. Monday afternoon, the center of the mural was beige. It will soon hold grazing cows and a windmill, Orabuena said.
“The reason I only had the two main images was at the beginning I was going to do it out of pocket, so I was thinking cost and I was thinking time,” the artist said.
The muralist was trying to get something out quick because when he went to the San Benito County Arts Council, he heard an ordinance was in progress that would dictate that artists couldn’t paint—even on private property—without going through a council committee, he said.
The background is mostly spray paint and roll paint, Orabuena said. The artists used a ladder to reach the higher parts of the wall, and sometimes Adam Valentino spray painted from the top of the mural wall, which supports a hill of grass, Resendiz said.
“Adam, he kind of saved the day with the project,” Orabuena said. “He’s real talented with the spray-paint cans.”
The mural has become a community work with people honking their support as they pass by and the Hollister Kidz Crew helping prime the wall and paint background colors, Resendiz said.
“People come by and honk all the time, like all the time,” Resendiz said.
The Garden Mart, a neighboring business, is donating flowers that go with the colors of the piece and can make the mural a three-dimensional work of art. There will be salvia, yarrow, ornamental grasses and herbs like mint and thyme, said Marci Huston, 55, the owner of the market.
“I think he’s just doing it for the reason I’m doing it,” Huston said. “That he likes to paint and I like to plant.”
For Orabuena, this work—and the former project on Third Street behind the courthouse—were things he never imagined.
“I’m from here,” he said. “I grew up here and I pass by those two locations all the time and I just never imagined that I would have the permission—or capability, yeah the permission—to paint the walls in the community I live in.”

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