New Pacific Beach sea life mural will brighten freeway drive

A conceptual drawing of an octopus — one of the sea creatures that will be in a mural installed in June in Pacific Beach.
A conceptual drawing of an eight-panel octopus — one of the sea creatures to be displayed in “Fathoms,” a mural to be installed in June on the east wall of the Jefferson Pacific Ranch apartment complex facing Interstate 5.
(Photo courtesy Debbie Avoux )

Motorists on Interstate 5 are going to notice a big difference in Pacific Beach this summer — and it doesn’t involve traffic.

Instead of the long, blank concrete wall of the Jefferson Pacific Beach apartment complex, they will see “Fathoms,” a vibrant 26-panel mural featuring a variety of sea creatures — a jellyfish, two sea lions, a large octopus, a dolphin, sea otters and starfish.

Artist Debbie Avoux, who has been painting murals for 30 years, sees it as a window to the sea.

“It represents the sea life and animals you would find in the Pacific Ocean and off the shores of Pacific Beach,” said Avoux, who divides her time between Ramona and Orange County’s Ladera Ranch.

The mural is a collaboration between Dallas-based JPI — developer of the Jefferson Pacific Beach complex on Mission Bay Drive, which hired Avoux and is overseeing the project — and Pacific Beach Planning Group members who selected the sea life design at their Feb. 10 meeting from among three choices.

It’s a gift of public art for Pacific Beach, said William Morrison, senior development manager at JPI.

“We’re pleased to partner with the Pacific Planning Group, as well as a talented local artist, to give back to a community that we’re proud to call home,” Morrison said.

Debbie Avoux is working on "Fathoms," a mural to be installed in June on the wall of a Pacific Beach apartment complex.
Artist Debbie Avoux is working on “Fathoms,” a 26-panel mural that will be installed in June on the east wall of a Pacific Beach apartment complex facing Interstate 5.
(Photo courtesy Debbie Avoux )

Avoux won’t be painting the mural directly on the wall. Instead, she will paint each panel with acrylic on canvas before they are all photographed in high resolution, imprinted on large Dibond aluminum panels and affixed to the building.

Using the aluminum panels will assure durability, Avoux said.

“A handpainted mural is going to fade over time, collect grime from the freeway and won’t hold up as long,” she said.

When completed, the mural will feature six sections ranging from 10 feet wide by 18 feet tall for the dolphin, starfish and jellyfish to 18 feet wide by 18 feet tall for the octopus.

Installation is expected to begin June 1 and be completed by June 15.

At the Planning Group meeting, Avoux described the three designs and showed her conceptual drawings in a video: the sea life design; a beach life design with images of popular activities — sailing, surfing, bike riding and snorkeling; and one reflecting botanical gardens and koi ponds in San Diego.

During the discussion, Planning Group member Steve Pruett said the sea life mural will serve as a new icon to signal to motorists that they’re in San Diego. Right now, he said, that landmark is Mission Bay.

“I think whether you’re a tourist or a local, once you see Mission Bay, you think ‘Now I am in San Diego,’” Pruett said. “We have the opportunity to have that recognition — ‘Now I’m in San Diego because I see the octopus wall.’”

Group President Karl Rand said that until he saw the designs, he couldn’t figure out where the murals were going to go because there are a number of windows on the building to work around.

“I think they did a masterful job of positioning the separate murals in a way that seems kind of natural and fills in the appropriate spaces, Rand said.

For Marcella Bothwell, the sea life mural is a big start in creating a theme for public art in Pacific Beach.

“I know we have the PB wave signs, a nice ocean sign, a surf theme,” Bothwell said. “I would like us to start thinking about all of our artwork, not in a restrictive way but in a way that starts setting a rebranding of Pacific Beach.”

Paula Gandalfo expressed her appreciation for the art and the fact that it is going on a blank wall in such a high-profile spot.

But she said she was concerned about the cartoonish characterization of the dolphin.

Avoux pointed out that the drawings she showed were small conceptual pieces and not the final image.

“There are a couple of things I would like to tweak,” she said in an interview after the meeting.

This isn’t Avoux’s first project with JPI. She has done some painting in the Jefferson Pacific Beach apartment mailroom, as well as hundreds of murals in homes, restaurants and offices, she said.

The San Francisco-area native was interested in doing children’s book illustrations when she started at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. When her sister asked her to paint her baby’s room, she discovered her love for doing murals.

About seven years ago, she opened an art studio and taught children’s painting classes and adult wine and painting classes. But she eventually shut down that business to concentrate on murals, she said.

Avoux acknowledges she’s a little nervous about the high visibility her mural will have. But she’s looking forward to getting started on the paintings.

“They will really be eye-catching,” she said. “The blue of the water and the sea life design — it will be very vibrant.”