West Palm Beach isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a historic brick warehouse converted to loft apartments and sporting a landmark mural, but that’s exactly where you’ll find Alexander Lofts. The six-story building dates back to 1926 and once served as the headquarters for Southern Bell. The blank brick side of this former industrial space inspired Ram Realty chairman Peter Cummings to pay homage to the inventor Alexander Graham Bell in a very public way.
Cummings reached out to famous mural artist Tristan Eaton with a monumental task: create a mural that will span the wall of the six-story building. 12 days and 500 cans of spray paint later Eaton completed the 8,000-square-foot-mural. The vibrant and colorful mural mashes up elements of realism, graphic design, and abstract patterns to create a collage of imagery never seen before in West Palm Beach. It stands as Eaton’s largest mural to date.
From its conception, the mural fought Eaton every step of the way – the scorching sun led to sunburns, rain forced delays, and strong ocean breezes caused the scaffolding to sway across the brick surface. After two of the artists that made up his four-man team had to leave early, Eaton and another artist were left to complete the mural on their own.
Yet the challenges didn’t deter Eaton, whose work can be seen in art galleries around the world. He began working at a young age as a freelance artist in Detroit and attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Eaton soon found himself working for Fisher-Price, where he designed his first toy at age 18. He later went on to design such toys as Action Heroes and a line of fantasy toys. He became famous for designing unique “Art Toys” popular with celebrities, such as the Dunny and Munny figures for Kidrobot. He went on to found Thunderdog Studios, a design firm that worked on a variety of projects for companies such as Disney and Nike.
One day while walking through a Brooklyn neighborhood, Eaton came across an apartment building with a blank wall that inspired him. He called the property owner and requested permission to paint, and the resulting modern surrealist mural, “4 Horse Women of the Apocalypse,” started Eaton on a journey that would take him to new heights.
Murals quickly became the focus for Eaton, who believes that public art is both inspirational and transformational. Soon, Eaton was painting the Statue of Liberty mural on the corner of Mulberry and Canal Street, an iconic mural that gained the art world’s attention.
Eaton’s reputation as a mural artist led Cummings, who saw the blank wall on what would become Alexander Lofts, to contact Eaton. Cumming wanted a mural that celebrated the building’s history and inspired everyone who saw it.
Eaton sketched the image by hand and modified it digitally. His plan was to project the image onto the building at night but the city lights kept the area too bright. Eaton and his team had to scale several light poles and cover them with cardboard in order to get the image to project onto the wall. Then, they outlined the image in gray spray paint. They worked during the night – all night – to get the outline finished. Then they started the fill-in process – a task that took almost two full weeks of 12-hour days –standing beneath the hot, Florida sun on scaffolding that swayed in the wind.
It was well worth it – the tediously long hours, the soaking rains, the sunburns, and the wobbly sea legs from surfing the wind on scaffolding – the result is the stunning and inspiring mural, “The Spirit of Communication.” The mural sets Alexander Lofts apart, celebrates history, and adds an elegant beauty for the public to enjoy.
But in this amazing work of art, there is a touch of the whimsical. If you look closely at the mural, you’ll see one little quirk – a tiny celebration of modern technology that wouldn’t be possible without Alexander Graham Bell’s ingenious invention, the telephone: look at the woman in blue, just below her collar. It’s a mouse pointer. It was there when Eaton projected the image onto the wall from his laptop computer, and he decided to leave it alone. There’s humor in it, to be sure – but also a touch of irony – the technology of the present celebrating the inventions of the past that helped to create it.