How One Mystical Mural Is Uniting Strangers and Friends Alike In Palm Desert
02/22/2022 | dunnedwards |
A cool burst of air-conditioning from his car vents offers muralist John Cuevas a break from the draining heat of Palm Desert and allows him to gather himself. It’s no easy feat painting a 65 ft x 15 ft mural in the desert sun. Out of his periphery, Cuevas notices a group of women meeting up at his work-in-progress—a mural titled 'Crystal Field.' They’re all dressed in pink, he notes, carrying pink ribbons, a symbol of breast cancer awareness. They snap a picture of themselves in front of an area of the wall painted in pinks, then get back in their car and drive away.
“I left that pink area untouched after [those women gathered together]; it reminded me that color itself unifies when it's used symbolically, murals are a public call to action to find common ground, kindness and resilience through community,” explains Cuevas of his mural, which was commissioned as part of the City's 'Unite Palm Desert' program, a relief response to COVID-19 with a positive focus on economic relief, community uplift and rapid recovery, according to the city of Palm Desert's website. In fact, murals have been a popular way for many municipalities to generate hope in dark times.
Cuevas began this series of murals, including Crystal Field, early after shelter-in-place orders went into effect in California in 2020. After mornings spent helping his kindergartner with distance learning, Cuevas would work on Crystal Field from midday until sundown. “It was just me and my bucket of paint,” he recalls, noting the endeavor was quite isolating and yet, at the same time was a moment also filled with optimism, especially because, at a certain point during the mural’s creation, passers-by would pull over often to talk.
Through this talk—and the mural’s mere presence—the citizens of Palm Desert did indeed unite; especially Cuevas, who lost his mom during the first wave of COVID. He found this interaction with the public while painting to be a catharsis. “It is important to me that the word 'unite' is a an action word,” thus it is a word quite literally at the heart of his mural (the word is written in the shape of a heart). Cuevas explored the theme of unity by starting his mural with the strongest form of triangle—an equilateral triangle. A triangle, according to Cuevas, is strong because each side is equally supporting the other sides. “I could not think of a more simple, beautiful analogy for the mission of Unite Palm Desert,” he says.
Cuevas’ concept goes on to explore local crystals and their mystic properties, and precious metals such as beryllium, gold, tungsten, garnet and tourmaline, which help inform his composition. "The title “Crystal Field,”" explains Cuevas, “is from crystal field theory, which is a fascinating bonding model that attempts to explain the properties of transitional metals, including properties like color.”
When it came to selecting his color palette, the muralist was inspired by the building’s original yellow-hued bricks and chose ochre selections like Arts & Crafts Gold (DET477), Hollywood Starlet (DET493), and Ochre Revival (DET472). Then, where the Unite Palm Desert heart expands out, “I wanted a waterfall-like effect with blues to complement the earthtones of brick,” says Cuevas. Those blues include Eastern Sky (DE5786), Pacific Palisades (DE5787), Aegean Sea (DE5788) and English River (DE5789). Orange tones and pinky-mauves help round out Cuevas’ palette, including Dreamsicle (DE5158) and Bohemian Jazz (DE6019).
Crystal Field is located at the intersection of Highway 111 and Cabrillo Avenue (just south of this is Palm Desert’s famous El Paseo). The mural graces a wall of a building originally built for the Valley Lumber Company (circa 1954-1957) and was designed by modernist architect Walter S. White, famous for his desert Wave House among others. Today, the building houses KUD Properties, a real estate agency and developer known for its mid-century replica homes, the Desert Eichlers.
All images courtesy of John Cuevas
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