HANFORD — If you associate graffiti more with vandalism than with artistic expression, check out the back wall of the Hanford Police Department.
For the third year, students from John F. Kennedy Junior High School and Woodrow Wilson Junior High School are teaming up with Tulare County-based graffiti artist Erik Gonzalez to create a mural using spray paint. While the last two projects have been at school sites, this year’s project is at the Hanford police station on Irwin Street.
Gonzalez said city officials were familiar with his work through the mural at the Hanford Skate Park, which was completed in 2014.
“Part of the project is allowing youth to take another look at spray paint as a creative tool and an art medium, not a source for destroying property,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an extremely rare opportunity to be spray painting a mural at a police station.”
Woodrow Wilson art teacher Lauren Franco said the project got a late start this year, in part, because it required pre-approval from the police department and funding from the Hanford Elementary School District’s board of trustees.
Franco said last year’s projects, which included murals at both junior high schools, were funded through a grant from the Tulare and Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force. The murals focused on the theme of “hope,” a common theme in suicide prevention efforts.
Students have been wearing orange “Hope” T-shirts for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline while they paint.
Gonzalez painted the outline for the mural on May 9 to give students a “coloring book” to work from. Previous projects with the two schools allowed more time to allow more collaboration with students. This time, students got some last-minute crash courses on spray painting before they started work last week.
“This time around, we were short on time and just sort of jumped right in,” Gonzalez said.
The Hanford Police Department mural will focus on community. Gonzalez’s design includes silhouettes of students, police officers and teachers overlaid on the word “community.” The images change color in areas where they overlap the letters.
“The trick is to make sure each layer is properly colored and to not lose your letter form,” Gonzalez said.
Chad Nielsen, who teaches art at JFK, said some of the students had prior graffiti art experience from working on last year’s hope-themed murals.
Natalie Solorio, an eighth grader at JFK, said she had no prior experience working with spray paint. She said she initially struggled to use the spray cans properly. Gonzalez said students are using artistic spray paint, which are available in more colors and provide more pressure control than industrial spray paints.
“I think it's really fun and cool that they would even give us a chance,” she said. “I really like the way the colors shade in and out so that you can see the difference in the letters.”
Marco Barrera, an eighth grader at JFK, worked on the mural at his school last year. While he had some experience working with spray paint, Marco said, this year’s project posed new challenges due to all of the overlapping solid colors. He said he was excited to paint a mural on the police station.
“But I wish we could have it in a more open spot so people could see it,” Barrera said.
Nielsen said he initially had the same concerns. It’s located on a brick wall in the rear compound behind the station. Upon further inspection, he noticed the mural is actually visible from Hanford Civic Park.
“And who else sees it every day?” Nielsen said. “It’s every single police officer that comes through here. I think that it’s a good place, actually.”
Hanford police Chief Parker Sever said the cinder block wall was originally a chain-link fence that housed evidence for the department. The fence, and the items on the other side, frequently became covered with leaves, dirt and debris. The area was later covered by the block wall.
“It looks a lot better than the bare wall,” Sever said. “It’s kind of nice to see the kids doing something positive with it.”
Nielsen said the two schools decided to work on different days to allow each of the 12 students more time to work. He said the mural will likely be completed sometime next week.