The Lost
Waterfall Mural

"Once I finish a job, it's over.
I don't want to come back to it,
I just move on."-John Rivera-Resto
quote: Only bad painters enjoy painting. -cecil collins

The mural that never was

In August of 1997 I was hired to do a mural for a tropical-theme nightclub that was opening on west river bank of the Cleveland Flats area. It was housed in one of the old warehouses typical to that part of town. Nowadays, the Flats is a redeveloped area on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, known for its happening nightlife, with edgy bars and clubs hosting live music, comedy and drag shows. But back then redevelopment was in its infancy.

Many of my projects overlap since one can never say no to any business when the going is good. It's only a matter of time before the cold weather sets in and job offers stop coming in. I had just completed the CMHA mural and while preparing for another a friend recommended me for this commission. I figured it would take me no more than a month to complete, so I accepted the offer and designed the art for the mural. While I waited for materials to come in, I use the rest the week to do another "filler job" that came my way -an advertisement for Darrel Koorey's Master Jewelers.

lost waterfall mural by John Rivera-Resto, 1997

August 1997. Art design for the Waterfall Mural.

Mural painting is not a year-round business. This is fine with me because this is physically taxing work. Going up and down scaffoldings tires you down before you even begin to paint. It's a job, not a cake. It also has its dangers and working conditions are rarely ideal. Besides, I bore easily when I'm doing the same thing for too long because I enjoy doing a variety of things. So in-between mural commissions I write, do theatre, travel, fence, engage in a little romance, teach, design or do odd jobs here and there. This is how I stay busy, eat well, and enjoy life.

Filler jobs

One of the odd jobs is sign work -which I hate doing. But it doesn't take long to do and it pays. So from time to time I do one of these as long as I find it interesting. Sign painting is a specialized art form that has almost disappeared in my side of the world because fast printing has taken over the business. A printed sign or advertisement on vinyl fabric can be done in any size, it's usually less expensive to do, and are done extremely fast. As a designer this is good for me because someone still has to do the art for reproduction -something I do quite often from the comfort of my office. But there are still plenty of 'custom' jobs that require sign painting skills.

darrel koorey's jewelry store Outdoor advertisement for Darrel Koorey's Master Jewelers and Designers.

Darrell Koorey's Jewelers is an example of one of those "filler" jobs I did because it involved painting an interesting background figure in addition to the lettering. It is essentially done like a mural, except that you do not paint directly on a wall but on panels in the comfort of your shop. Paintings done on panels are not as durable as works done directly on a properly prepared surface, but they are a less expensive solution when walls are in bad shape or the client does not own the building. In a place like Cleveland, where the weather is not temperate, the longevity of any exterior painting is very limited. Never-the-less, the finished art make for attractive advertisement and for some clients this makes it worth it. And even better for me, I could finish the job in a week just in time to begin the waterfall mural.

darrell korey's jewelers advertisement by john rivera-resto 1997 The image is that of beautifically jeweled lady from the Victorian era. She will be noticed.

Painting a waterfall

The wall selected for the mural was not a very good one, but the client wanted a waterfall and this was the highest wall. I mentioned the fact that the mural would not be entirely visible at a distance due to visual obstructions like the ductwork for heating and air conditioning, several large warehouse lamps and planters hanging from the ceiling, but he was not dissuaded. In addition, he wanted the mural done on panels so it could be taken down and carried away in case he had to move when the lease was over.

waterfall mural site, wall preparation, 1997 We constructed a wooden frame and bolted it to the brick wall. Then pre-primed plywood panels were screwed to the frameword and primed again with a final coating. The site was poorly illuminated so we had to install our own lighting system to be able to work into the night. Because of the ductwork and hanging planters blocking the view, we were unable to photograph our progress.

Given these conditions, I hired an assistant and then erected and bolted a wooden framework to the brick wall. Next I covered the framework with ¾ inch plywood panels. The panels were first primed on both sides to avoid warping and then screwed to the framework. This way I ended with a smooth wall to paint on. Another coat of primer was applied on the finished wall to further seal the wood surface and cover the screw heads and I was ready to paint.

john rivera-resto at waterfall mural site, august 31, 1997 Climbing up and down scaffoldings keeps you trim and fit. Working on a large scale image when you are close to the surface distorts your view. So you have to plan ahead and methodically work on the image to get it right. This type of painting is not for everyone.

I will always remember the evening I started painting. It was August 31st, 1997. I was up on the scaffolding when Jay, my assistant, called me to come down. The news was all over the radio -Princess Diana and two other companions died in an automobile accident. We listen in silence for about a quarter of an hour. When the newscaster had no more facts to be revealed at the time, I remember saying more to myself: -"What a waste..." Then I went up the scaffolding and continued painting.

lost waterfall mural by john rivera-resto, cleveland, ohio 1997 Before I could get the proper equipment to photograph the finished mural, the club went out of business. So this conceptual rendering is all that's left to see. Perhaps I'll get an opportunity to do it again in the future. In this line of work, you never know what the next day may bring.

The mural was completed ahead of schedule and it looked great. But the nighclub did not last the month. The owner had gone into business with insuficient capital and, worse of all, had not secured a liquor license. So he was forced to close and in the process many people ended up without being paid. I was one of them but a least I had secured a large initial payment to cover expenses and my time there. So I did better than most. But I never had the chance to get the proper equipment to photograph the piece which was later lost to further development in the area. And this was the end of the story.

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