By Laura Scully
You wouldn’t expect to see a large penguin waddling down a neighborhood sidewalk, with a Grunion Gazette tucked beneath its flipper-shaped wing. But that’s the appeal of local artists “thinking outside of the box.” Specifically, the utility box.
“I thought, let’s get the box to disappear and just blend out,” said utility box artist Doug Walker. “Let’s do something strange.” Apparently, a penguin strolling along with the local paper qualified.
Walker, a long-time Belmont Heights resident, and artist calls the artwork “The Grunion Penguin.” It is located at 4th and Ximeno, right in front of a popular eatery which is also painted into the background of the artwork. He was inspired by a penguin photo he saw in National Geographic magazine and tried to imagine how he could incorporate it into a painting.
“I always wanted to do a utility box, like the ones they have on 2nd Street,” Walker explained. He worked closely with representatives of the Belmont Heights Community Association to create the art. “In some way, all the boxes have to reflect the neighborhood,” Walker said. He added that all the Heights’ boxes are labeled “Belmont Heights” in the same lettering style.
Walker has painted several utility boxes over the last five years. “The biggest challenge is the boxes are at busy intersections, about one foot from the curb,” he said. “As opposed to painting inside, you are out in the environment,” he explained, “…with the exhaust fumes from buses and cars.”
Outside challenges aside, Walker enjoys the process. “The reason I do it is to create interest and joy around Belmont Heights,” he said. There are more boxes to be painted and he encourages other local artists to join in. Walker added, “It’s a way of organizing people around the idea of making our neighborhood beautiful and fun.”