CENTRAL & CORNELL SE--I can't think of an artist with a bigger or better "gallery" than Scott Kuykendall. He must have 600 linear feet of paintings on one of the busiest corners in the state of New Mexico. And his work has become part of the lives of literally thousands. Kuykendall did the murals surrounding both the Frontier and Saggio's restaurants. He also did Marc's Guitar's mural and the work on the interior walls of Saggio's as well as Saggio's large food kiosk inside UNM's Student Union Building just across the street. And oh, by the way, he has three paintings hanging on the walls inside the Frontier Restaurant as well.
Considering all this, they really should name the RapidRide Bus Stop after him. "Now approaching Central and Cornell, UNM, Frontier Restaurant, and Universe of Scott Kuykendall!"
Where It Began
The murals all started in 1994, with his "Central Avenue Mural" (10' x 28', Oil on Panels). This greets visitors coming in the front door of the Harwood Art Center, 1114 7th St. NW. It is just breathtaking. In fact, it impressed the owners of Saggio's Restaurant so much they commissioned Kuykendall to start work on the outside of their building. Then he moved across the street to the Frontier. Then back to do the front of Saggio's with "Ocean Scene." I'm not sure when he found time to fit in the large pieces that are inside Saggio's.
Wearing a Cubs Hat
I arranged to meet Scott at the Frontier. "I'll be wearing a Cubs hat,"
he said on the phone. This should not have surprised me, for Kuykendall received his B.F.A. from my own alma mater,
Northern Illinois University. After lunch he offered to take me on a tour of his nearby work. We walked outside and turned right. Our first serious stop was in the alley.
I don't go into alleys that much. And when I do, I tend to keep walking. But this time I just had to stop and stare. "Trompe l'oeil"
sounds a little too Frenchified for a man in a Cubs hat eating a burrito, but that is what we were looking at. Even now, I can't remember for sure whether there were real windows somewhere on that wall, or was the whole thing just paint.
A Parking Lot of Roses
We walked to the rear of the building. A woman was standing there. Bernadette Austin was waiting for her mother in front of a painted rose bush. "They're beautiful,"
she said. "My mom keeps saying, 'I wish we had that planter.'"
She smiled. "It just reminds me of Mexico."
To a guy who paints in alleys, that has to be as nice a compliment as one could get.
Across the parking lot was a beautiful landscape. It is as if one can see through the buildings, see back in time to what was there 200 years ago. Even the cars and lettering can't limit one's imagination looking at this scene. This one has to be my personal favorite.
A Stupid Question
But there was more. Facing Cornell is the famous "Landscape with Coyote." I was curious about something in the mural, somethng near the coyote half-hidden by a prickly-pear. "What is that cardboard box doing in there? Is it a statement on littering?"
Scott said. "There is a roadrunner in the mural on the other side of the building. The coyote is over here. The box is from the Acme Company that sends Wiley Coyote all the stuff he uses to try to trick the roadrunner."
I could only nod.
I asked him about what kind of paint he uses that will stand up to the sun as well as rain, snow, and temperature extremes...and is economical enough to cover large areas. It turns out that he starts out with acrylic house paint for his base coat. He uses Golden brand artist's acrylic paint for rendering.
By this time we had crossed the street and were standing in front of Saggio's. "This is one of my own favorites,"
he said. Kuykendall had not only done the incredibly life-like ocean waves, he had designed the door as well. Look at it next time...truly amazing.
As is the back of the building. Everything on that wall, from the Mona Lisa figure in the window to the bicycle stored on the balcony, takes your mind to somewhere else, maybe to a story you know about that woman, or to the young man carrying his bike upstairs. After looking at Kuykendall, life around you just seems different somehow.
If you have ever seen the big mural inside Saggio's, you can't forget it. It is a composite of disparate personalities chained together for the amusement of the pizza eaters. There is Anthony Quinn talking to the Pope, the Beatles, Elvis, Marilyn, Superman, Einstein. And off to the side is a self-portrait:
Scott Kuykendall in his own painting behind a movie camera, catching it all on film. "I'm the cameraman, not the director,"
he said softly.
But he sees the humor in it all. He says he is influenced by the movies and television, viewing them as a kind of "shared experience" that gives a common ground to both the artist and the general public. This mural is nothing if not Fun. And you can spend a lot of time chuckling over what is painted on the wall.
I said "Adios"
to Scott Kuykendall. But not really. He is the most public of artists. On this corner, he's almost
everywhere. But instead of viewers looking at his work as if in a more formal setting, they interact with it. His flowers and hills, his cacti and oceans, they become part of our lives. They play against what we think, what we say, and what we see. It is sort of like going on a visual vacation between finishing off a breakfast burrito and starting your car. And it makes the world around us a lot more interesting.