One of our biggest priorities when working on a project is establishing a sense of place. The art advisors at KBAA want every project to feel not only unique and local to the area, but also add to that area’s rich heritage. That’s exactly what we got to do when working with Northern California artist Bryan Valenzuela on the three-story mural at Marriott Vacation Club Pulse San Francisco.
Northern California artist Bryan Valenzuela’s work is much the same, offering a picturesque view from a distance while providing a richer perspective up close. Valenzuela has spent more than a decade perfecting his trademark drawing technique: he uses handwritten text to carve shape and light, creating intricate imagery that tells visual and verbal stories simultaneously.
Guests at Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, San Francisco, can take in Valenzuela’s EMBLEM, a towering three-story mural that’s prominently displayed in the property’s courtyard. The completed mural—made of acrylic, acrylic markers, and latex on wood—is a contemporary reimagining and reorganization of the San Francisco City Seal, distilling certain icons in the city’s history and landscape. The Dahlia in this case has replaced the 1906 Fire Phoenix symbol in the original, recalling its overall shape yet making a new symbol for the new century in representing diversity with the image of many petals coalescing to create one giant bloom. The text written specifically for the piece is a long epic poem in vignettes that tell an impressionistic narrative of different time periods in the history of the city, from the carving of the bay landscape by glaciers in the last ice age all the way to the present day with nods to hope for the future.
Connecting with the Local Area
How did this intriguing mural end up in a courtyard at Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, San Francisco? With nearly half the rooms facing the courtyard, the Marriott team recognized that the blank wall was an opportunity to create an unforgettable art moment for its guests—and reinforce the ethos of the Vacation Club Pulse brand.
However, the team wanted something beyond just a “pretty wall,” which is why Valenzuela was such a great fit for the project. His works aim to engage, teach and inspire, and he quickly understood how he could do just that.
Nestled within the courtyard space, EMBLEM invites viewers to reflect on and connect with what makes the city so unique and beloved by visitors from all over the world.
While Valenzuela was crafting the mural, observers of all ages often stopped by the courtyard to watch him work, mesmerized by the way he used lines and color to create depth and detail.
Whether they’re in San Francisco for the first time or returning for an encore, the mural offers guests a new perspective and helps them feel a deeper connection to the spirit of the city.
The Making of a Mural
When composing the mural, Valenzuela was inspired by the San Francisco city seal. As the focal point of the mural, Valenzuela replaced the city seal’s rising phoenix with a dahlia, which is San Francisco’s official flower. Up close, the imagery is composed entirely of handwritten text; the words themselves create various vignettes that tell the story of the city.
“There’s definitely a lot of prep involved, because trying to blow something up to a larger scale is a feat in and of itself,” Valenzuela says. “I start just in my sketchbook with small little sketches and try to compose it, in a way, keeping in mind the shape of the wall, the research that I have done, having a sense of place. I always love that, having a sense of place. It’s not something that’s removed from the space that it’s inhabiting. It’s a comment on the city itself or the building or the history or the people that inhabit that space.”
After composing those sketches, he carefully looks through his backlog of inspiration images of different models, faces, and materials and pieces them together to create a collage in Photoshop. That collage is then further refined and manipulated to create a mockup of the mural. That’s when Valenzuela typically begins writing, creating a narrative for the mural that deepens the story being told.
Then it moves into what he calls “the logistical stuff,” such as gathering equipment and hiring an assistant, who typically helps on the background and the larger blocks of color. To ensure that the mural withstands the elements for decades to come, Valenzuela applies numerous coats of primer and a clear coat at the end to seal it in. To see a time lapse of the execution process and read more about the meditative state Valenzuela enters when combining the words and images, head to our Featured Artist Q&A.
Images courtesy of Bryan Valenzuela