A section of artist Paul Ygartua’s giant “Legends” mural on the Beachcomber Hot Tubs building in Surrey, at 132 Street and Comber Way. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

A section of artist Paul Ygartua’s giant “Legends” mural on the Beachcomber Hot Tubs building in Surrey, at 132 Street and Comber Way. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

SURREY NOW & THEN: 31 famous faces fill can’t-miss ‘Legends’ mural painted in 2000 by Paul Ygartua

A look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

Artist Paul Ygartua created the main wall of Surrey’s most prominent mural with a single brush, one with three inches of bristle.

“By the end, it was about a half inch,” Ygartua recalled of the tool, well used in his work to paint the 31 faces on two exterior walls of Beachcomber Hot Tubs’ building in Newton.

“I even have a photograph of me holding the brush at the end,” the muralist added. “We even thought of going to the paint company, showing them the brush saying, ‘This would be great advertising for you.’”

Full of famous faces, the giant mural can’t be missed on the corner of 132 Street and Comber Way. School kids and business groups come to view it on tours, and others just stand in awe.

“(The) painting is here for all to admire and enjoy,” business owner Keith Scott has said, “but most of all, to be inspired and challenged by the accomplishments and dreams of these famous faces. We can all learn from their achievements, and from their mistakes.”

(Story continues below an old photo of Ygartua with brush he used to paint the mural)

Scott commissioned the colourful mural in 2000 as a millennium project saluting a constellation of “legends” including Princess Diana, Walt Disney, Martin Luther King Jr., Terry Fox, Billie Jean King and other trailblazers of the world.

Ygartua worked several months to complete the mural, at the time considered the world’s largest painted freehand by one person, on a “canvas” measuring 390 feet by 24.

“I spent the first month or so, a few weeks, just drawing it,” recalled the Vancouver-based artist in a phone call. “I didn’t put any colour in until a couple of months later, simply because I had to go to Europe for an exhibition. We had to leave, so when we came back I started painting them. The first face that was finished was Chief Dan George, and then I worked along the wall that way, you know.”

(Story continues below tweets)

A chance meeting at a home show led to the creation of the mural, which stands as one of the most important works of Ygartua’s long, multifaceted career.

“Keith chose most of the faces for the mural, and I chose a few,” Ygartua recalled. “Together we picked our favourites, and then after that the difficult part was finding the right photographs, with the faces pointing in the right direction. I like to have my faces flow in a certain direction. I wouldn’t have someone looking left and then someone next to him looking right, you know what I mean? I had to find the right faces.”

• RELATED STORY: Museum of Surrey exhibit focuses on life of Chief Dan George.

For Ygartua, Chief Dan George was a special portrait for the mural. “I knew him quite well and we’d done an exhibition where he was my guest of honour, at the Bayshore (hotel). And I knew his son very well – he’s passed away as well now.

“Apart from that, Louis Armstrong, I love the faces he made playing trumpet, a fascinating face to paint,” Ygartua continued. “And Elvis, I loved, and a few of them are my favourites. Keith decided he wanted Bill Gates in there – that was the last choice, so I had to put him up above everybody else because there was no other space. I think he had investments with Microsoft, maybe that was his reason,” the artist added with a laugh.

The mural’s legends are now a history lesson for some, and younger people may wonder who they are. To help tell their stories, Beachcomber created a guide that profiles the subjects, which include Indigenous artists Bill Reid and Simon Charlie, both of whom are depicted on a smaller, less prominent section of the wall, near the business entrance.

(Story continues below)

The Ygartua Art Chronicles” YouTube channel includes a discussion about the project with Ygartua and his wife/partner, Joanne, in a podcast.

“I’ve done probably 14 or 15 murals, but they don’t come up that often because there’s not much money out there for muralists,” Ygartua said on the phone. “Since I started doing murals, each one has introduced me to another opportunity, you know what I mean? Slowly the word out mouth gets around.”

Notably, vandals have very rarely ruined Ygartua’s work on the Beachcomber building.

A decade ago, he returned to “touch up” his mural, and it might be time again, he figures.

“The last time, I spent two or three days quickly going over it,” Ygartua recalled. “The weather on that front wall is particularly heavy, the one facing south. The sports wall (facing west) is not so bad because it’s kind of in the shade and sheltered from the weather, but the main wall really gets blasted with the sun in the summer and the rain. That ends up affecting the paint, you know.”

For a closer look at Ygartua’s art, visit ygartua.com and twitter.com/paulygartua.


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