What started out as an excuse for artists Pierre BellaFonté, Charles Meck, and Uter Charles to get outside and paint turned into a commentary on the dichotomy of the types of legends that hail from the city of Oakland. Painted with oil enamel, a 100-foot mural, which appears on a brick wall at the corner of San Pablo and Castro Street near the Oakland Greyhound station, depicts rapper Too $hort and actor Tom Hanks, two well-known Oakland legends.
“Oakland breeds influencers and people should be proud to be here. It’s important to pay attention to our backyard—we have epic stuff going on,” BellaFonté expressed. While Too $hort moved to the Oakland area in the 80s and attended Fremont High School where he played drums in the marching band, Tom Hanks attended Skyline High School and later studied theatre at Chabot College in Hayward. Despite sharing similar roots, $hort and Hanks have very little else in common, having embarked on very different career paths. The mural, then, in some sense serves to represent “a juxtaposition of Bay Area culture”—a result that the artists did not anticipate, but are wholeheartedly embracing. “[People] like that they’re opposites, two different cultures of Oakland,” said Meck.
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“I think it’s a fresh take on representing Oakland,” said BellaFonté. “We’re out painting every night, and this is a nice opportunity for us to do a mural that people are respecting. Graffiti in essence represents a city’s culture, and people forget what it’s about when they try to take it away.” Surrounding the depiction of Hanks’ likeness are visual references to his most iconic films: Wilson, the volleyball from “Castaway,” the keys of a piano for “Big,” a pixelated cursor in homage to “You’ve Got Mail,” kites flying in the air for “Saving Mr. Banks,” and black-and-white cow print bordered by a lasso and cowboy boot for Woody from “Toy Story.” The tissues, a detail with less obvious connotations, are “Hank”-erchiefs.
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As for $hort, an image of Thomas the Train and a trophy bearing the title “Player” appear on the mural in honour of his iconic hits “Blow the Whistle” and “I’m A Player.” The earlier years of his career, in which he sold mixtapes out of his car, are depicted through the massive boombox surrounded by cassette tapes. “In a way, they represent us,” said BellaFonté. “Some of us, some of our friends get down sometimes on working four jobs. It’s tough living in Oakland. These pieces remind us Oakland is epic, it’s fun and to make the best of things.” The artists plan to finish the mural by Sunday or Monday, and though the city did not commission the piece, officials don’t seem to mind it. “We are lucky to have so many murals that reveal Oakland’s creative spirit,” said Roberto Badoya, Oakland’s cultural affairs manager. “We don’t oversee all public murals that enrich our city. This mural celebrates two Oaklanders that embody that creative spirit.”