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Local muralist emblazons Rialto, Bookmans facades

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Public art

Local muralist emblazons Rialto, Bookmans facades

Joe Pagac's mural at Rialto draws attention from downtown commuters

  • Joe Pagac at work on a mural in Phoenix.
    Courtesy Joe PagacJoe Pagac at work on a mural in Phoenix.


Tucson is a mural town. You've seen them when you drive around: Roses & More, Truly Nolan, the U of A, we all have our favorites.

For a native Tucsonan muralist like Joe Pagac, 29, Tucson's penchant for painted walls can be lucrative. Soon, there will be a new mural in town: Pagac will be painting over the old mural at the Bookmans on Grant Road.

You may have seen the Rialto Theatre lately; it's hard not to these days. A huge mural is in your face as soon as you merge onto Congress Street. That's all thanks to Pagac.

He paints a new mural there each month, basing the piece on whoever the Rialto's monthly headliner is. Sonic Youth, Ozomatli, Calexico, and George Thorogood are the four he has done, with more to come in March.

That's what he'll do for Bookmans too, painting over his old work each month for a fresh start.

It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of exposure to folks who otherwise might not have heard of him.


I love Pagac's art. He has an old-fashioned work ethic, often working 12-hour days. He's been supporting himself completely with his art for the last five years, you know. 

He owns a duplex that he bought trashed, then spent months rehabbing by himself.

But…I still can't get used to the idea of temporary murals.


Well, you know, all art is temporary, it can always get damaged – look at that woman who fell into the Picasso painting.


That’s pretty funny, Whitney.


It sounds exhausting, doing a new mural every month in the same spot, but Pagac is up for it. It's an advertisement for him, which is how he's able to take pay cuts on certain murals. The publicity they bring will make up for it.

When I talked to Pagac, I was impressed by the way he taught himself the business of art. He studied art at the U of A, which taught him a lot about the technical aspects of painting - color theory, design principles - but as he told me, "The important thing about art school is forgetting everything you learned in art school after you graduate." Working in the field was its own separate business education.


Yeah, you don’t learn much about business finance in school, or about how to handle clients. That's especially important for artists, isn’t it?


It’s very important for artists to have business savvy, because people tend to devalue art.

As an artist, I learned the hard way that some clients don't know what they want or how to ask for it, and Pagac has, too: once a client asked him to "make [the painting] look more like art." How does one even do that?

At least he’s never had any requests like the ones on the Clients From Hell blog, where designers post the most ridiculous requests they’ve received:


I'm sure Bookmans will be no client from hell, and Pagac should be starting to paint in March.

He says, "Details for Bookmans are still being hammered out, but it looks like I will be doing the same type of monthly promotional murals that I am doing for the Rialto: highlighting upcoming shows and letting people know that Bookmans also sells concert tickets."


Really? I didn't know that! See, it's working already: wall art brings publicity to the businesses whose walls it graces. Sure, we have nostalgic feelings towards the old Bookmans mural, but having a new, ever-changing one will get more traffic into the store.

The Rialto mural will also make people aware of the shows, and that includes me. After seeing Pagac's Ozomatli mural, I was inspired to get tickets to that show myself. Without the mural, I might never have known.


Hey, I've just been searching the Interwebz to make myself feel better about temporary murals.

Seems it's an up-and-coming phenomenon, prevalent in American art of the new millennium:

Inhabitat project is about reverse graffiti or clean tagging: making ordinary signs look beautiful. I’ll bet that all started when the first person wrote, "Clean me," on a filthy car.

Pagac slipped into doing temporary murals by accident when he created one for his musician friend’s Phoenix show. He and his friend then approached the Rialto about doing the same thing for them.

Now he'll be Tucson's main practitioner of the art. Aw, I'm looking forward to seeing Bookmans' new murals now. It is exciting: clearing away old to make way for new. That's life.

This could create art lovers where before there were none, because Pagac's work is nothing if not attainable.


Hey, Sentinel readers, what’s your favorite piece of local public art? And don’t say the rattlesnake bridge.

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