Sitting with a spinach omelet at Brails on 5th, paint on her tanned knuckles, Ila Rose yawns.
“I just finished this morning,” she says, smiling. Rose is talking about her new mural, just around the corner at 3rd and Lincoln, completed for the 20X21 EUG Mural project.
20X21 is a city-wide undertaking to beautify the city, and create art ambassadors, in anticipation of IAAF World Championships — one of the world’s largest athletic events, which Eugene will host in 2021. All eyes will be on Eugene, and they will certainly have eye candy to look at. Beginning in 2016, the city of Eugene and its public art committee have commissioned more than a dozen internationally renowned muralists and street artists (see the following pages).
Of that roster, however, Ila Rose is the only Eugenean. For the past two years, Rose has created the art for the Oregon Country Fair posters, and she has a stunning mural off of Blair Boulevard in the Whiteaker.
Rose, however, may never have had a wall if she and Eugene muralist Kari Johnson hadn’t decided to approach the city, explaining that this project direly needed the participation of local artists.
“The committee was looking for a certain caliber of art,” Rose explains. “It’s not just about the quality of the image, but the collective imagery of the community.”
Isaac Marquez, the city’s public art manager who also works with the public art committee, was receptive right away and found Rose a wall, she says.
The committee originally assigned Rose one of corrugated metal —a complex technical undertaking for an artist who had only one mural under her belt.
“Working next to internationally famous muralists, I just really felt like I wasn’t set up for success with that wall,” Rose remembers. “They worked with me to find a new wall really quickly.”
Rose had to change her original composition in the process, an interesting journey in itself.
The study for the first wall featured a cloaked owl with large human hands clutching a bouquet of flowers, while a blue and orange snake slithering in the background—common natural symbols in Rose’s oeuvre. But not everyone was crazy about it, fearing the imagery would scare children.
“I’m always intrigued by people who get scared of my art,” she says. “Art is a mirror.”
Rose took the feedback in stride, as she had to create a design for the new location and format, two walls meeting at a corner — an area of 2,400 square feet, one of the largest canvases of 20X21. The new mural features some of the deep themes of Rose’s portfolio, a connection to the earth and the power of women, especially in the face of adversity.
“She’s sort of based on Msedusa,” Rose says of the double-headed figure. “She’s like this giant mythical “beast,” but I shine this light on her as not being as scary as perhaps people project.”
She continues, “Then there’s the child offering her the flower and the child is not afraid. It’s this idea of a child facing an obstacle with compassion, with openness.”
Rose says she couldn’t have done the mural without her dedicated and talented team of local artists, friends and volunteers — Kia Metzler, Dennis Antosen, Nors Flora Soleil, Sity Wray, Lena Freeman and Jessica Watson — who all worked through a historic Oregon heatwave.