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Local artist is leaving his mark

The photo illustration shows what the mural Ricky Watts will be painting will look like on the Phoenix Theater. The work is scheduled to begin in early March.

Illustration by Ricky Watts
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

Sonoma County artist and former Petaluman Ricky Watts is coming full circle with his latest project — painting a mural on a building where he spent much of his teen years experimenting and developing his craft.

During the last two weeks of March, Watts will be climbing up on a window washing rig to spray-paint a colorful mural on the south side of the Phoenix Theater as part of the Petaluma Arts Center's street/gallery art show, “Cosmic Terrain.”

Watts was approached by the Petaluma Arts Center about being part of the show, but because the space isn't big enough for all the artists involved, a new idea was suggested.

“The show's curator Scott Hess came up with the idea of having me paint the wall of the Phoenix Theater,” said Watts, who as a teenager painted murals on the inside of the Phoenix. “I've always wanted to paint that wall, so we decided to see if we could make this project happen.”

With the Phoenix board's blessing, Watts set up a Kickstarter page, which is an online site used to help individuals and groups raise funds for personal projects.

“Deep down in my mind I was thinking there was no way it would actually happen, but sure enough, people have been very supportive of the project,” said Watts.

As of this week, Watts has reached the funding goal of $5,500. With all systems go, Watts is preparing to spray- paint a section of wall that's 40 feet high and 50 feet wide.

“The wall itself is four stories high,” said Watts. “It's easily the largest mural I've ever done. The more I think about it the more nervous I get, but I'm also really excited.”

A Casa Grande High School graduate, Watts has enjoyed drawing since he was a child. He became interested in graffiti art in junior high, and painted some of his earliest murals inside the Phoenix thanks to theater manager Tom Gaffey, who trusted him with the space.

“The first one I did was in 1997,” said Watts. “Since then I've painted murals on walls in Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland.”

After high school, Watts studied graphic design at the Art Institute of California in San Diego. He worked in a print shop there before returning to the Bay Area to work as a designer for another print shop.

These days Watts does freelance work and is a member of the ZeroFriends collective. He works out of his studio in Sebastopol.

The Phoenix mural is based on a painting Watts did in 2011. The original was five feet by six feet. He chose it for its bright colors and design, which he said was easy and not expensive to reproduce. He plans to have the mural completed in time for the opening of the Cosmic Terrain show.

“This is a great way for me to give back to the Phoenix for all they've done for me in the last 15 years,” he said.

The Cosmic Terrain exhibit opens April 6 at the Petaluma Arts Center and features the work of street/club/gallery Mars-1, Oliver Vernon, Damon Soule and Ricky Watts. An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. April 13. The work will be on display through June 2. For information, visit www.petalumaartscenter.org.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at Yovanna.bieber ich@arguscourier.com)

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