by Gus Marshall
A picture is worth a thousand words. Originally a Chinese proverb, later appropriated by the American advertising industry during the turn of the century to promote the use of visuals in advertising, the concept posits that a highly detailed idea can be conveyed more accurately with one single image in comparison to any amount of expressive imagery or highly descriptive language.
Testifying to that idea is a new mural located in the heart of North Beacon Hill’s business district. Massive and awe-inspiring, the vibrantly colored painting is sure to catch the eye, at the very least for the duration of the current American attention span (approximately 8 seconds).
The artist responsible for this recently unveiled public art installation (located on South Stevens Street and Beacon Avenue South) is South End artist Jake Millett.
“Beacon Sunset” depicts a surreal landscape on a faraway world filled with the ocean blues and aqua hues, reflecting linear light patterns in a soon to be stormy sky, making an imaginative moment of inspiration come to life. With Millett’s effort, the once unidentifiable North Beacon apartment building is now on the way to becoming an immortalized cultural landmark.
Gus Marshall: How long have you been an artist?
Jake Millett: I have been making art my whole life but I would consider myself to have been pursuing a career in professional art ever since I graduated college.
GM: How would you describe your style of art?
JM: It’s definitely abstract. I gather a lot of influences from nature, landscapes, patterns, textures, there is a heavy emphasis on geometry and straight lines, blocks of color and intersecting lines.
GM: Where did you grow up and attend school?
JM: Grew up in Columbia City, South Seattle, went to Hawthorne Elementary and the Northwest School for middle and high school, which is on Capitol Hill and then spent college at University of California Santa Cruz.
GM: Does your upbringing in Rainier Valley have any influence on your work?
JM: Yeah I think it has shaped my scope and my vision a bit. A big part of it is just the landscape and the natural beauty of South Seattle, the lake, the mountains, Mt. Rainier, Seward Park, just having those be in my everyday life.
GM: Have you ever done a mural of this scope before?
JM: No, never anything this size or scale, for sure.
GM: What are the dimensions of the mural?
JM: It’s 54 feet wide and almost 28 feet high.
GM: How would you describe “Beacon Sunset”?
JM: It’s an abstracted vision of looking out at the Olympic Mountains and seeing a beautiful sunset from Beacon Hill.
GM: Oh, so it was inspired by some actual Beacon Hill sunset lookout spot?
JM: Yeah, I wouldn’t say any specific one, just continuously seeing them, time after time coming home from work and, boom, its dark in Rainier Valley but you get up to Beacon Hill and it’s just like exploding with color, light and crazy rays of sunshine popping through.
GM: How long did this project take?
JM: There was a long time that went into planning it. I can’t really put that into an hourly time frame. I had done an idea for the front of the building and that plan actually didn’t work out. So I had planned a whole mural for the front that was very different from “Beacon Sunset” and that didn’t work out but the side of the building became available and I decided to make that happen and it took about 8-10 hours to get the dimensions and sketch out something that was roughly to scale that would work. Then there were about 75-80 actual painting hours on the building.
GM: Are you happy with the way it worked out, taking the side of the building rather than the front?
JM: Yeah I think it’s great how it worked out. I love that it’s visible from the park (Stevens Place Park) and from very far down Beacon Ave nearly from the light rail station you can see it. I think it has exposed more people and gets more attention this way.
GM: How much paint do you think was used?
JM: There are four quarts to a gallon, right? Probably…tough to say because the wall was already primed with the two background colors, so I have no idea how much paint that was, but I probably used…3 to 4 gallons of house paint and about 12 cans of spray paint.
GM: When you said it was primed, was that part of your plan or did you use the existing color scheme and incorporate it into your mural?
JM: It kind of worked both ways. They had a base of dark gray that the owners and the tenants liked and I liked it as well and was down to roll with it and I chose the primer color for the sky which is a light baby blue/ice gray and so that was already up there for me so that was a lot less painting I had to do.
GM: How was this painted?
JM: Well there was a painting crew that primed the wall and then I came in and used rollers and long poles to just roll up most of the color and then we rented a lift, a scissor lift, and I got up there and was able to fill in more details then the final layer was using tape and spray paint to give it all the crisp lines.
GM: It’s a pretty astonishing piece of work, are you proud of it?
JM: Thank you, yes very proud.
GM: Your parents are both successful artists; did you have exposure to the art world at an early age?
JM: Yes a lot of exposure. At one point when I was at middle school, I decided I wanted to be a businessman and wear a suit because I was so over all these galleries and museums and art openings, things that I really didn’t understand.
GM: Was there pressure from your parents to pursue art as a career?
JM: Never any pressure but they always had the tools lying around if I ever wanted to make anything they were always open and ready to give me the supplies I needed to make anything if that’s what I wanted to do but they never pressured me to follow in their footsteps or anything like that.
GM: Do you feel your parents’ success has helped or hindered your personal identity as an artist?
JM: It’s definitely helped. A couple things in particular just them coaching me as a young artist, and you know being okay with like failure and not getting the show you want or getting the job you applied to and just understanding that it takes a long time to build your career and your body of work and for your work to improve. I also see how hard they work and how much time they put into their craft. You can’t take it lightly and you have to be dedicated to it and their example that you can have success helped instill confidence in me that this is something you can make happen and you can do.
GM: What goals do you have for your own art career?
JM: I love Seattle and I would love to be synonymous with the Seattle art scene and if you think of visual artists I would like to be a name that eventually comes to mind. You know I love this town so it would be cool to decorate it some more and have it be part of my identity.
GM: Any plans for future shows or installations?
JM: Yeah I will have a show in March 2018 at the Kirkland Art Center it’s a group show. Three of my paintings will be included. It’s based around a sense of place and geography and it should be a cool show.
GM: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many to describe this mural?
JM: It’s a million word mural.