In the NEWS..
February 16th, 2006
Mural destroyed, vandalism
A mural at Vallejo Plaza was destroyed over the weekend, one of the artists said Wednesday.
Vallejo artist Peter Hubbard said he suspects vandals burned the piece, which hung
outside the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts and measured 10 feet by 15 feet.
The mural, painted on a makeshift canvas of newsprint and cereal boxes, was
designed to erode over time when left in the sun, rain and wind, Hubbard said.
"I was just devastated," Hubbard said. But, he added, "That may sound peculiar
because we knew they were going to be destroyed in the weather anyway."
Hubbard said he and Trevor Burrowes have painted more than a half-dozen murals, but
they will have to find a new place to hang the works.
Mall management is forbidding the pair from displaying more murals for fear vandals
may do more damage to the building.
January 6, 2006
Vallejo: Artists paint outside the box to ease urban blight
Vicky Elliott, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006
At the back of an obscure shopping mall in Vallejo, in a dead-end alley, on a blank wall, hangs the last in a series of path-breaking artworks, painted collectively on used cereal boxes.
Pete Hubbard and Trevor Burrowes show off their mural “Agriculture — Interpreting Thomas Hart Benton,” which they painted on newsprint and cereal boxes, near the Fetterly Gallery in Vallejo. Chronicle photo by Lance Iversen
This bold experiment set out to bring art to the people and conquer urban blight. All but invisible to the world in general, it has been carried on in glorious obscurity by two dogged and determined creators, Pete Hubbard and Trevor Burrowes.
Burrowes, who was born in Jamaica, educated at Yale University School of Art and had a creative phase in the 1990s running East Palo Alto's Historical and Agricultural Society, recently relocated to New Mexico just after a retrospective of his work at the Vallejo art gallery in the fire alley in question.
But unseen, unsung, Hubbard, a draftsman by trade and an artist by training, is carrying on his project by the Fetterly Gallery, the exhibition space of the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation. He can't quite remember how you find it, although he has been there dozens of times.
"It's hard to tell," he says, trying to remember the landmark that could guide visitors to the alley that bisects the strip mall on Sonoma Boulevard. "I don't remember what it is. It might be one of the dollar stores, or it might be a one-hour photo shop. I can't remember the name of it."
The collaborators' latest mural, "Town and Country," based on a piece by the 20th-century painter Thomas Hart Benton, continues in their tradition of familiarizing Vallejo with famous images from art history. Hubbard put it up in November with the help of Scott Tucker, a local artist and musician who worked on the sky.
Hubbard, 56, has devised a method of painting, not exactly by numbers, but involving a grid, negative space and a palette of complementary colors, that as he sees it, takes the angst out of the business.
"In art school," he says, and in his case the art school was the San Francisco Art Institute, "they teach you to disembowel yourself and throw your entrails on the floor and then read them. You have to delve into it all somehow and pull the art out."
This, he suggests, is all well and good for those artists who have trust funds or are getting by some other way, but doesn't hack it for the great majority of creative souls who have to work for a living.
"You can't do art between appointments," he says, and given his full-time job as a GIS analyst at a Santa Rosa engineering firm and his recent double schedule as a student learning new mapping software, he knows about hectic schedules.
"My method works for me," he says, "and it can work for others. It allows you to not have to worry whether it's right or wrong or not." It pays off, he says, when he comes home tired from his day job. If he won the lottery, he would probably revert to a more conventional way of painting.
Hubbard, who thinks of himself as a pure painter, very much in contrast to Burrowes, who likes to mix art and social activism, has short-circuited the entrails-reading process.
So by breaking the task into bite-sized pieces, with a system of notation that can be read like a chart, he can be alone with the part he really enjoys, lifting his arm and applying the brushstrokes. "Instead of looking at this big blank canvas, you put the grid on it, and it's not a big blank canvas."
Hubbard recognizes that his approach "isn't accepted in all quarters. Some people fight against it. They want to have that angst and that trouble." But he has a number of followers who say it works for them. Some meet for a Saturday life drawing class downtown, which Hubbard thinks of as his weekly calisthenics.
Hubbard and Burrowes were unlikely collaborators. Burrowes, 68, is a retiring and dignified person, very cerebral, whose grandfather had a library celebrated all over Jamaica and was a friend of the early proponent of Negro rights, Marcus Garvey. Hubbard is workmanlike, bull-necked and definitely more down to earth.
"To be quite frank, on the few occasions we worked together, it was terrible," Hubbard recalls. "He would be standing over my shoulder and asking 'What are you doing that for?' " They agreed on nothing, but on the other hand, Hubbard says, he welcomed the chance to work with a mature artist "who would think of things I would never think of."
Burrowes, who says he hates to buy art materials and has a rigorous commitment to reuse and recycling, had evolved an aesthetic of graphic layering, using newspaper, old envelopes and sketches within the grids of his used appointment calendars.
They took his idea to use newspaper as a medium and put it together with the grid. Pretty soon, they discovered they didn't have to get in each other's way. "We didn't have to listen to each other," Hubbard says. Using the notations to guide him, Burrowes would sketch the outlines, with his fine economy of line. "He would work for a while, then he would call me up."
The first work went up in a guerrilla attack, when they stuck a mural on an old shoe store and photographed it before peeling it off again. Surfing through the Italian Renaissance, with a princess of the house of Este from Pisanello and Piero della Francesca's Duke of Urbino, they embarked on a tour of art history.
An admirer from Crockett let them use a window, and their Caravaggio was the first to stay up for a month. Then they settled on the Fetterly Gallery location.
To say they were toiling in obscurity is perhaps overstating the case, because Vallejo newspapers have written about them, and the organizers of the Florence Biennale found Hubbard's Web site and invited him to participate in 2004. He submitted two paintings, "Bad Boy" and "Dos Huevos (Two Eggs)" and took them to Florence, where he met all kinds of artists from around the world but discovered that the show was "not all that it was cracked up to be."
A German collector, again trawling the Web, found "Interpreting Nighthawks," a piece inspired by Edward Hopper's moody view through the plate glass of a diner at night. It had hung in a vacant Vallejo storefront before the owners started asking for rent. Hubbard rolled it up and shipped it to the collector's Florida residence for the princely sum of $800.
In June, the two made their first Thomas Hart Benton mural, which showed a farmer and his plough under the graffiti "Agriculture must be stopped." Its greatest moment came when the shopping center chopped up all the concrete in the alley and left it lying in huge random chunks below the mural before the alley was repaved. "Flowers in the desert," is the way Hubbard thought of it.
"The rips, fissures and fading ... are simply what they are. We pass no judgment on them," Burrowes says in an essay on the Web site, laying out the beauty of the ephemeral. The sun beating down it, the sculptural warping, the oxidation give the work an extra dimension, in time, he notes.
In the recent rain, the first Hart Benton took a heavy beating. "It can't be fixed in the weather, and I don't want to leave it up there if it's just flying all over the air," Hubbard said. "I have a responsibility to the shopping center." He can't get there by day (work), so he's wondering whether to rescue it and duct-tape it back together.
The question remains how much anyone has ever seen the murals. Burrowes, when he was working at the gallery, said people came by on occasion. A group of Vallejo second-graders came on a field trip and appreciated the texture of the cardboard and finding the Cheerios underneath the Leger. That mural was the champion of the series, being taken down in November after a full year of exposure — to the elements, that is.
"Some people know about it," Hubbard says tentatively of the art in the alley. Then he reflects a little and adds candidly: "A lot of people actually don't."
August 7, 2005
August 7, 2005
artists create murals
RICHARD FREEDMAN, Times-Herald staff writer
The murals are mammoth and
any way you look at it, slightly weird. But that's OK with Trevor Burrowes.
TREVOR BURROWES, left, and
Pete Hubbard collaborated on the mixed media mural 'Agriculture' which is hung on a
wall near the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts in Vallejo Plaza. (J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald)
Actually, the artist who joined forces with Pete Hubbard to create the mixed media madness thrives
on the bizarre. This is a guy who once drove through Jamaica with RASTA PATROL written down the side
of his 1960 Plymouth.
"All my life I've been doing crazy things," Burrowes said.
Because Jamaicans tend to recycle - "We don't throw anything away," Burrowes said - he's used to
turning what's trash into art.
So it wasn't surprising when he and Hubbard took discarded cereal boxes and newspapers, painted
simple black-lined figures and created a project that covers a huge chunk of the barren walls
surrounding the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts in Vallejo Plaza at 3267 Sonoma Blvd.
The first piece, posted last November, is an interpretation of 1930s French artist Fernand Léger.
The second, up for two months, is a farmer harvesting a field of cereal boxes from a piece by
Thomas Hart Benton. AGRICULTURE MUST BE STOPPED is written above it.
This "guerilla" work is based on art of the 15th and 16th century "because we feel we can educate
the public about art by using images which they can easily recognize as art, even though they may
not be that familiar with them directly," Hubbard said. "By showing these kinds of images in our
way, which is to say, presented in a 'modern art' context, we feel we can teach the public it's
not necessary to go to major metropolitan centers to see art."
Those who venture through the alley have been positive, Burrowes said.
"Most people say, 'That's nice,'" he said. "We've had a great diversity of people come by who have
liked it. There have been second-graders who come by and feel everything. They especially like the
Not everyone, apparently, is a fan. Property management placed a tree in front of the "Agriculture"
"They're idiots," said Hubbard, laughing that the duo picked the respective sites for the murals
"because it's the only places where people won't call the cops."
The artists tried to place their work in empty store fronts downtown on Georgia Street but were
rebuffed, Hubbard said.
"They wanted to know how much rent we'd pay," said Hubbard, adding that he and Burrowes work well
together "because we disagree on almost everything."
"I think we have a common educational background in art," he said. "We know what we're talking about."
The latest project took two months of periodic efforts, Hubbard said. "It's not like we're painting
all the time," he said. "We do it when we find time to work."
Hubbard was responsible for the infrastructure of the murals, figuring out "how to make it
work," he said.
Burrowes had the idea of using newspaper and cereal boxes and the rendering of the art. "Since
we never threw anything away in Jamaica, the ethic was that it's possible to re-use everything," he said.
Both artists appeared destined for their labors in childhood. Hubbard was interested in puzzles,
codes, systems and later, symbolism and a fascination with the lines in trigonometry.
Burrowes took a plunge into the art world by drawing at 4. He was greatly influenced by movies
and tried to capture the dramatic images he saw. "I've always been interested in large, propaganda-
type imagery," he said.
After creating 10 murals together, Burrowes and Hubbard look forward to mentoring the artists
"I'm very cerebral, yet there's a strong rebellious streak in what we are doing," Burrowes said.
For more information about the mural projects, visit petehubbard.com.
Vol. 2, Issue
2 Summer 2005
Two Vallejo Artists
Bring Temporary Oases to Life
Suspended over a fire alley being repaved in the back of the Vallejo Plaza Shopping Center
on Sonoma Boulevard between Redwood Street and Valle Vista Avenue, two murals,
“Agriculture” and “Leger,” have become desert flowers amidst the rubble. Each mural
brings a classic work of art to the community on a canvas of disposable newspaper framed by the
backside of a building.
“Agriculture” (click for zoom)
“Léger” (click for zoom)
From far away, the murals look like a sea of color. Up close, one can see the nuances: abstract
curves and angles that are far from arbitrary. The images look familiar (based on famous works
by the artists Thomas Hart Benton and Fernand Léger) yet distinctive. Some of the newspaper
photos and print make their way through the paint, giving the murals a hint of days passed.
A man on a bike riding by slows down to take another look. A person walking to work goes into
Fetterly Gallery, which has provided informal support for several of the murals, and tells a
staff member how much she appreciates the murals. A group of elementary students, invited by
the murals’ creators, Vallejo residents Trevor Burrowes and Peter Hubbard, smile as they reach
out to touch the bright splashes of acrylic paint.
To most, the murals are a welcome respite in a fast-paced world. Trevor Burrowes, who came up with
the idea of creating large, public murals with newspaper as the canvas says, “The reactions we’ve
gotten so far have been pretty positive. The second graders gathered and touched the murals and
got passionate about this kind of art because it was so available to them. Street people and
those well-trained in art and everyone in between have appreciated the work.”
Peter Hubbard, the co-conspirator who developed much of the methodology for creating this
“guerilla art” (the moniker his web designer prompted the artists to invent), says, “If everyone
made art, 90 percent of the world’s problems would go away. If you’re making art, you’re consumed
by it. Whatever the other guy is doing doesn’t matter. A lot of the problems we encounter in the
world today are caused by people with too much energy telling other people what to do. I say,
spend that energy on yourself.”
When asked how the murals came about, Burrowes says he was inspired by Hubbard, an art instructor
at the time, who had developed a formal system for collaborating on visual art. Burrowes had
always been interested in collaboration and accepted the offer from Hubbard to work with two
other artists on a painting.
The first painting they did was more traditional, on canvas, created in the studio, each artist
taking turns working through Hubbard’s system to add their individual voices to the work.
Burrowes says that even though the first painting didn’t work out so well, it revolutionized
his way of working. “Something snapped in me, and I had a breakthrough in accessing modern art.
I’ve always loved it, but I never went there before; I kept shy of loosening up and simplifying.
Because of Peter’s work, I discovered line in a new way. It was a total liberation.”
After the first painting, Burrowes took the initiative in asking Hubbard to collaborate on a mural
if they used his choice of canvas, newspaper. Hubbard agreed, and they began work on their first
mural “House in Jamaica” based on Burrowes’ photograph of an old Colonial-era house in Jamaica.
Even though their styles are considerably different, since then Burrowes and Hubbard have fallen
into an easy working relationship, creating larger-than-life murals that change eyesores into vistas.
As a child, Hubbard was interested in puzzles, codes, systems and later symbolism; in high school
he became fascinated with the lines in trigonometry—not in the mathematical sense, but in a visual
sense—how if he manipulated one line, what kind of an effect it would have on the other lines.
In college, Hubbard studied abstract impressionism at The San Francisco Art Institute. There he
honed his skills as a painter, and with the help of a teacher who had a major influence on his
style, he learned how to quit being so rigid and let the painting flow out without analyzing it.
In his words, he learned to paint “quick and fresh” versus “heavy and labored.”
Burrowes’ began his foray into the art world by learning to draw at age four. As a young man, he
was influenced greatly by movies and tried to capture the dramatic images he saw, such as smoke
billowing out of a war plane about to crash, or the sleek lines of a shiny new car. A high school
teacher of his, despite his penchant for modern art, had a great impact on encouraging Burrowes’
ability to draw what he saw. Then in 1956, he went from his homeland, Jamaica, to Parsons School
of Design in New York City, where he studied perspective drawing and drafting, which greatly
improved his ability to draw realistically. He continued his studies of realism and received
outstanding instruction for his drawing at Yale Art School, despite its strong modern art focus.
As to be expected, after college, both Burrowes and Hubbard began to question the role of artists
in society. Hubbard took a break from art and became a professional draftsman. At work, he learned
to respect the team effort involved in the discipline of drafting precise lines, designing
distinctive lettering and capturing the aesthetic required for a particular building. Later, he
used this understanding of how architects, engineers and draftsmen collaborate to design his
methodology, which he has been refining over the course of 17 years.
Long after Burrowes’ studies ended in New Haven, he decided to create a different kind of art. He
went to visit Jamaica and caused a stir by painting “Rasta Patrol” from the fender to the tail fin
on one side of his 1960 Plymouth and “African Liberation Now” on the other side. He says, “I’ve
always been interested in large, propaganda-type imagery, and the ‘slogans’ were painted in a way
to fit the form of the car.”
Ultimately, the shape of the message is almost more important to Burrowes than what is painted—how
each mural panel is arranged on a building is essential. He agrees with Marshall McLuhan that
‘the medium is the message.’ The solidity of architecture, for example, has always been an
amusing challenge to him, given the idea that nothing is permanent. He likes to change the shape
of a building through his work—even if for a moment, through temporary means. He designs materials
to fit the architecture, so that his art complements certain aspects of each building: An
inconspicuous arch becomes prominent; an angle appears deeper; or a particular line is enhanced.
In this same manner, each mural he creates with Hubbard is specially placed to accent the
architecture of the building that frames it.
Long before these striking, temporary murals grace a particular space, however, the two artists
alternate time in the studio to incorporate three main elements as defined by Hubbard—a grid for
composition and placement of objects in the painting that is usually visible in the finished
painting; the negative image comprised of the “background” space that is not the central focus of
the painting; and the image that becomes the main focus of the painting. Through a series of
repeating steps, Burrowes and Hubbard apply color to each of the elements, a system Hubbard
adapted from theories on the use of color in paintings by the 20th century artist, Albert Munsell.
Hubbard’s methodology is only one of the reasons the two artists collaborate together so
successfully. In addition to Burrowes’ methodology contributions, another is his 35-year love
for using ubiquitous material: cheap and industrial supplies, unpainted plywood, cardboard and
newspaper to represent images that are available and relevant to every single person. Since
Burrowes is also a big fan of layers and textures, the newspaper canvas is an integral part of
each mural for him. He explains, “We create new things on the newspaper that are harmonious
with the forms. You can see the photographs showing through underneath the paint that complement
While creating art about everyday life that everyone can relate to is admirable, Hubbard says
that sometimes it can be controversial. In fact, some people have a real problem with newspaper
used as a canvas. They heatedly explain why the newspaper is not a proper background for a
mural based on a recognized artist’s work. Hubbard just laughs, “I think it’s devilishly funny
to make these perishable murals. It’s sort of a political statement lambasting the art
establishment in a way, because it puts so much value on these objects of arts that are put
on pedestals and in museums, which I have nothing against, but there is a kind of a hubris
quality about all this great art and all these great artists and all this crap. I think everyone
would be better off if it was brought down to the common person and everyone made art.
“There are other cultures where visual art is created collaboratively,” Hubbard continues.
“Art making in the courts of North India, for example, was done that way, before their traditions
changed to be markedly more autonomous. Also, in the Pacific Northwest, several coastal indigenous
tribes had a ceremony called potlatch, where they shared their creations such as food, dances,
blankets and other crafts.”
Says Hubbard, “When cultures can be organized where making art is a central activity—that can
be a very good thing.”
Burrowes agrees that art makes a difference in people’s lives. “Sure it’s a lofty ambition to
want to change the world with my art, but I do. I’d like to reach out beyond the mural program
He and Hubbard would both like to share their unique collaboration techniques with fellow
artists. After creating 10 murals together, they look forward to mentoring the artists of tomorrow.
Burrowes says quietly, “I’m very cerebral, yet there’s a strong rebellious streak in what we
are doing” … the kind of rebellion that can make an unkempt neighborhood shimmer with color or
an abandoned storefront glisten with energy.
Yet long after the murals are gone, the two creators will remain. As word continues to spread
about the murals and with continued community support, another pair of artists will carry on
their legacy of ‘art for the people, by the people.’ New murals will be bright spots in our
often overwhelming society. For more information about the ‘guerilla art’ mural project, visit
www.petehubbard.com or visit the Fetterly Gallery.
May 31st, 2003
Frustrated artists put
their work on display in downtown
RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer
Two Vallejo artists, frustrated
in their efforts to convince the owners of boarded-up buildings downtown to display their artwork,
have taken matters into their own hands. Peter Hubbard and Trevor Burrows have begun creating
artwork on newspaper and displaying it on the outside of empty downtown storefront windows.
"We're attempting to use the storefront windows along Georgia Street and other downtown streets
as frames for artwork," Burrows said. "We go there on non-working days and install the artwork
on the business' windows. We take some photos of it, and then take it down."
There are, said the artists, several methods to their seeming madness.
"We believe in it, and believe in the efficacy of it as a special, unique thing," Burrows said.
"Right now the subject matter is interpretations of old master paintings from the Renaissance
period. We're promoting art history, cultural literacy and creating shared values."
The artists said that besides the symbolism inherent in superimposing old-world paintings on
current events, they're incorporating the architectural heritage of downtown Vallejo.
"We put it on newspaper because it's available, it's familiar to everybody, and it will tell
people years from now what was happening when the work was done," Burrows said.
Hubbard agrees, adding, "Doing it on newspaper is also low-cost, recyclable and disposable, and
there is a deeper implication -- we're trying to hit on all these connections, and associations
and people can see it and relate to it."
The concept for the project, the artists said, came in stages and was the result of a
"We met at the Vallejo Artists Guild and got to talking about what to do with downtown, and
about collaboration techniques, and between the two of us, we worked out a very collaborative
system," Burrows said. "We mean to bring art to the community and vice versa, using the historic
architecture and using a grid system Pete invented that aligns elements of art and architecture."
Originally from Jamaica, Burrows has lived in Vallejo for three years. He hopes the Guerilla
Art Attacks, which he said Hubbard christened the project on a lark, will cause "a change of
consciousness to occur about what can be done downtown. I think there's room for art as an
adjunct of the businesses."
Hubbard, a 54-year-old draftsman for a Novato engineering firm, said the idea of putting art up
temporarily on the outside of buildings came to him after the city's artist community tried and
failed for years to get art displayed inside those buildings.
"Vallejo artists have been trying for years to spruce up downtown by displaying art," Hubbard
said. "I got the bright idea to utilize vacant store windows, and we've had various levels of
success. Success, in the art world, is about showing your work — not as much as selling
it — that happens so rarely, it's not like I predicate my sense of success on it. I think
that's true for most realistic artists."
Hubbard, who has been invited to participate in a prestigious art show in Florence, Italy, in
December, said that when a deal to display their work inside one abandoned Georgia Street
building fell through at the last minute, they came up with the Guerilla Art Attacks idea as
"We got the bright idea to put the art up on the outside and make it look like it was inside,
take a photo, to say "ha, ha! We did it anyway, and then put the pictures on a Web site," said
Hubbard, who moved to Vallejo from his native Seattle 18 years ago. In that time, said the San
Francisco Art Institute graduate, he's seen Vallejo's art community blossom, though there is
still some resistance from some business and property owners that, he said, just don't get it.
"The art community is nice now," Hubbard said. "It was pretty anemic when I first got here. I
think the store owners are thinking very bottom line, and don't get the deal about art or
artists, and don't see any point in it."
This is not going to stop the Guerilla Art Attacks however, Hubbard said.
"We'll continue to do this and we're thinking of another attack in a week on another window,"
Hubbard said, of a piece called "Night Hawks."