El Paso artist draws praise for public space works

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EL PASO, Texas (AP) - Mitsu Overstreet never expected to go from painting graffiti and murals on El Paso streets for fun to getting paid to turn public spaces into works of art.

Overstreet, 42, is a graphic designer, illustrator, and muralist beginning to make a name for himself as a public artist.

The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/1l0Qq6N ) reports last year he created a stylized, blue river design now flowing on the floor of the baggage-claim area at the El Paso International Airport with people’s comments about what they like about El Paso on medallions sprinkled throughout the design.

In April, his largest public art design was unveiled in Atlantic City, New Jersey: An impressive, 700-foot mural, made of 27 huge, vinyl and aluminum panels containing Overstreet’s computer-generated sketches of beach and water scenes. It’s wrapped around a mammoth, warehouse-like building along the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk.

It’s part of an Atlantic City beautification and Boardwalk improvement program.

Overstreet said he’s still learning the craft and business of public art. That craft, he said, is figuring out “who’s your audience,” and then creating art to make a place, or space people will remember.

“The Eiffel Tower (in Paris) was a public art installation that was supposed to be temporary for the (1889) world’s fair. But it ended up staying and now it defines that city,” Overstreet said.

“You have to think of public art in that way; what would define this area. That’s how I chose the river” for the airport floor, he said. “Some people say the border defines the area. But the river (Rio Grande) is actually the thing that probably brought people to this area,” and it’s a positive attribute, he said.

Monica Lombrana, director of aviation at the airport, said all the feedback about Overstreet’s floor design has been positive.

“Not only do people like the new flooring from an aesthetics point of view; it makes the area brighter and the artwork is beautiful,” Lombraña said in an email. “But people really like the medallions with quotes from individuals who submitted their favorite memory or thing about El Paso or the area,” which makes the design a true “community work of art,” she said.

Overstreet said he got the idea to include El Pasoans’ quotes, solicited online, in his river design while interviewing people at the airport about what kind of artwork they’d like to see there.

“People (waiting for airplane passengers) would start talking about their life in El Paso,” Overstreet said. “And it turned into stories about what they loved about El Paso.”

He decided including quotes from people would create an emotional connection for travelers to understand the city, he said.

Overstreet has the distinction of having the first project commissioned for the city’s eight-year-old Public Art Program.

That project, completed in 2008, is a mural of abstract depictions of native, medicinal plants painted on cinder block walls. The mural hides an industrial yard and is the centerpiece of a tiny, park-like lot along Alberta street between the Texas Tech medical school and University Medical Center.

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