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Costa Mesa's past comes to life

Mural artist Allyson Jones Wong strapped herself in a harness for weeks to paint images on the back of a building.

December 27, 2012|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Allyson Jones Wong paints a mural on the side of a building at 1534 Adams Ave. in Costa Mesa.
Allyson Jones Wong paints a mural on the side of a building… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Starting at 7 a.m. Nov. 6, Allyson Jones Wong strapped herself into a safety harness and climbed atop a boomlift. Working nonstop until the light ebbed at 5 p.m. almost every day, she overlooked exhaustion and illness.

Her sole focus: to paint.

"I was so excited to wake up each day and pick up my paintbrushes," Wong said. "It got to the point where I was getting sick but didn't even realize it. Everything in my life gravitates around my work. When I'm working, I'm happy — it's like I get high off of it."

Now, the rear facade of a former Edwards Theater on Adams Avenue has been given a facelift.

Four images and a map — shimmying among different eras — showcase a 61-by-26-foot sepia-toned celebration of Costa Mesa's history.

After an interview process that screened a laundry list of local muralists, John Hill, the architect of the shopping center at Harbor Boulevard and Adams, tapped Wong, a close friend of the property's owner.

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"I didn't want to slap people in the face with a lot of color," Wong said of her largest work to date. "This mural had been envisioned as both informational and fun, and we were trying to provide a soothing effect with the rosewood color."

Born in Newport Beach, Wong knew she was going to be an artist as early as fourth grade. Walter Farley, who drew illustrations for "The Black Stallion" and other children's books, was an early influence.

"I was one of those kids who spent a lot of time alone, and I drew all the time, all the time," recounted Wong, now 51. "I even drew in class when I should've been doing other work. I never had any other interests. I always knew that I wanted to pursue art."

Wong, who earned a bachelor's degree in illustration from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and draws from styles ranging from Impressionism to photo realism, favors representational-style murals and plein air landscapes. After working at a tile factory for several years, she also developed a passion for decorative art and faux finishing.

"Very often, I create interesting textures, make a surface look like something else or insert embellished borders," explained the La Habra resident, whose work pops out from children's rooms, laundromats and restaurants across Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Inland Empire. "I try to do it wherever I can get away with it."

A muralist for 15 years, Wong described a feeling of toe-curling exhilaration upon being commissioned for the Elm Avenue-facing mural this past summer.

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