An Interview with Mural Artist Celeste Byers

Local mural artist Celeste Byers has been paired with the San Diego Natural History Museum for a new exhibition called Muse: San Diego Museum Murals, opening June 17 at La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan. Much of Celeste’s work had an aesthetic and subject matter that aligned with theNAT’s mission and vision, which made her the perfect choice to create a mural concept for the Museum.

Muse, presented by the San Diego Museum Council (SDMC) and curated by Danielle Deery, pairs nine San Diego County museums with local artists to create mural concepts inspired by each museum’s mission or collection. The Council generated this creative concept in an effort to bring the museum community together with another vibrant community—Barrio Logan. The partnership celebrates the area’s heritage and vibrancy in an authentic way while engaging artists who exhibit their work in this area.

We chatted with Celeste about her contribution to the exhibition, her experience in diving into theNAT’s research collection, and what inspired her most. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: Tell us about your experience working with theNAT on this concept mural.

A: To help generate creative ideas for my piece, I visited the Museum to not only experience their current exhibitions, but also go behind the scenes to the research labs and specimen collection rooms, which was really amazing. In one of the rooms, there were some men who had a spider in a jar that one of them had found in a cave in Baja, and it turns out it's the first one of its species and genus ever documented by modern scientists!

There were also ladies preserving plant specimens in books, and one of the craziest things I saw was the room full of taxidermy animals. There were owls, a buffalo head, a penguin, foxes, scorpions, and way too many animals for me to name. There are even boxes of different animal pelts, and I saw so many things for the first time since I'm pretty sure it's illegal for normal people to have them. There was a jaguar pelt with its head attached as well as the pelts of a lion, a bear, and a hyena. After seeing those, I'd had enough and decided I didn't want to take any taxidermy home although the staff kindly offered to lend me some to draw from. The thought of filling my room with taxidermy animals had sounded like a fun idea before that. 

Q: How did your visits to the Museum help inspire your work?

A: I went home full of inspiration and came up with the idea for my painting. I wanted to express the concept of natural history and how everything in our world is always transforming into something else. I had been so amazed to learn that our bioregion had once been a thriving rainforest with ankylosaurs and giant sloths, so I decided to put both these animals in my piece. The ankylosaur is painted as if it's made of Joshua Tree rocks, and I painted the giant sloth skeleton as if it was a living elephant tree. Juxtaposed with the extinct lifeforms, I also painted a variety of some of the current inhabitants of this land to show that everything is connected through time, although we live in a forever changing landscape and world. 

Q: How long did it take for you to create your concept mural?

A: I painted this piece over the course of two months, and since I travel a lot for mural work, I took this painting along with me to work on in Tulum, Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and of course here in San Diego. I finished the painting in Texas and made a makeshift desk by taping it to the floor at my temporary apartment to make sure the paper wouldn't warp. Since you're not allowed to take paint on planes, I came up with this idea to use a medicine holder to squeeze my gouache paint into so I wouldn't have to sneak dozens of tubes of paint on a plane. It was a success!

Q: Any other thoughts about the process or the exhibition?

A: I hope all of you out there reading this can make it to the show. Art is always way cooler in person and I would love for you to get as close as possible to my piece! If you want to check out more of my work, please visit my website or follow me on Instagram.

La Bodega Gallery is located at 2196 Logan Avenue, San Diego, CA 92113 in the heart of Barrio Logan. The exhibition will be free and open to the public June 17-30, Monday through Friday from 12-6 PM.

Muse is made possible with funding from the City of San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture.

Share your thoughts about this exhibition on social media using #GoMuseums and #LaBodegaGallery.

Posted by Public Relations and Social Media Manager April Tellez on June 8, 2017

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