By Pam Kragen
Every artist dreams of creating a magnum opus, and Encinitas painter Kevin Anderson says he’s still in the hunt for that masterpiece. But this summer he came pretty close.
On July 6, he completed the biggest and most ambitious painting of his career inside a 72-foot-long pedestrian tunnel at the Civita mixed-use community in Mission Valley.
Over 88 days, Anderson filled the tunnel with 25 interlocking scenes of the landmarks, lifestyle and people of San Diego County.
On the west side are scenes of Coronado, downtown San Diego, Point Loma, SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego Bay, La Jolla and Torrey Pines.
On the east side are Julian, Palomar Mountain, Ramona, Potato Chip Rock, El Cajon, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the Borrego Desert.
There’s also a tribute to San Diego Padres icon Tony Gwynn and a fly-by from the Blue Angels squadron.
Anderson, 60, is a mural artist whose vibrantly colored ocean, tropical and local landmark paintings adorn buildings, fences, walls and homes all over San Diego County, as well as throughout California and in Colorado, Hawaii and Mexico.
His Civita mural — painted on the sides and ceiling of the tunnel that allows residents to pass beneath Via Alta to a dog park — pulls together everything he’s painted in San Diego since his first local mural in 1991.
“This was the culmination of everything I’ve done on canvas,” he said. “I took all of my favorite places and blended them all together under a common sky.”
Civita residents and developers are thrilled with the results, said Mark Radelow, vice president for land and retail development for Sudberry Properties, which commissioned the piece.
“People love it. I love it,” Radelow said. “You can’t walk away from it and say he missed anything. He captured San Diego County as good as anyone could possibly do.”
Anderson never set out to become a mural artist, but you could say it’s in his blood. His grandfather painted murals in New York and his daughter, 35-year-old Coral Lakey-Anderson, spent many years painting scenery for Broadway shows in Manhattan.
Growing up in Solana Beach and Encinitas, Anderson said he found an early passion for drawing in kindergarten and took every art class available at San Dieguito High (now San Dieguito Academy). He went on to study art at Palomar College, then earned a four-year art degree at Long Beach State.
Painting was his passion, but he paid the bills in the early 1980s as an illustrator for local commercial art and advertising firms, making brochures and posters and designing pieces for books and magazines.
But when computers and design software came along, illustration work dried up. To support his wife of now 36 years, Jerelyn, and their daughter, he joined nine of his fellow Long Beach State art graduates to form a mural-painting crew in the late 1980s.
The crew worked mostly in Las Vegas, painting Renaissance-style Tuscan designs on the walls and ceilings of resorts like Caesar’s Palace and Harrah’s. He also did residential work for celebrities including Eddie Van Halen and the late Merv Griffin.
Meanwhile, Anderson built a steady business painting murals in Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff, Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside. His colorful depictions of the Self-Realization Fellowship, crashing waves and local coastal scenes can be spotted all over the county, always dated and signed by Anderson with a tiny star inside the loop of the A in last name. Photos of some of his many murals can be seen on his website kevinandersonpaintings.com.
Anderson said mural painting draws on all of the skills he’s acquired, including illustration, anatomy, perspective, color and a thorough understanding of his subject and environment.
For the Civita mural, he combined his own ideas with those of officials from Sudberry, which has been building the massive development since 2009. When complete, Civita will have as many as 4,780 residential units, 900,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 17 acres of parkland and open space, a community rec center and a school site.
Radelow said San Diego-based Sudberry likes to incorporate locally-designed public art into all of its projects and the “big gray tunnel” at Civita was crying out for some color. He drove all over town studying murals and found that Anderson had both the talent to pull off the huge project and deep roots in the community.
Anderson’s process for creating a mural starts with a concept and, as a trained illustrator like Norman Rockwell, he likes to work from photographs.
Many of the people painted inside the tunnel are local residents. Those are his neighbors swinging a golf club and holding an apple pie. And a proud dad lent a photo of his son riding a mountain bike for an East County off-road scene.
Anderson doesn’t own a cellphone because when he’s working he needs both hands. Plus, his work always attracts a crowd and he much prefers face-to-face conversation.
At Civita, many residents came out every day to check his progress. One man brought lawn chairs so he and his 92-year-old mother could watch him work for a whole day. She was a painter herself with a terminal cancer diagnosis.
One section of the mural was reserved for local residents to paint their own names and designs. Before the woman left that day, she painted a small picture of a woman’s face and her name. Her son told Anderson that the experience of being able to leave her mark behind “made her life.”
While murals have provided a nice living, Anderson said he’s been itching for years to break out and create something really unique. He feels in his bones that the new painting style he’s gradually developing — a blend of realistic and abstract elements in looser strokes — could make his name.
“I really want it, but what keeps me sane is at least I have a little bit of fame around my hometown,” he said. “Even if I’m not in the history books, I’m going to have a really good life trying for it.”
To visit the Civita mural, take Route 163 to Friars Road. Drive east to Mission Center Road and go north. Turn right on Civita Boulevard, then left on Via Alta. At the top of the hill at Apex Way there’s a dog park where the tunnel entrance can be found.