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California, the Mural

10,000 Square Feet, One Square at a Time

February 04, 2001|David Lansing

When michael eisner cuts the ribbon to Disney's California Adventure on Thursday, the thousands of visitors who rush beneath a scaled-down replica of the Golden Gate Bridge may bypass what could be the new park's most impressive achievement: one of the largest ceramic tile murals in the world.

Conceived by Disney's Tim Delaney, the mural, covering two walls, was executed by San Pedro artists Dimitri Lazaroff and Theodora Kurkchiev, who defected to the United States from Bulgaria in 1983 with $306 to their names. The collage of California scenes began as a series of 8-foot-long paintings blown up to 16-foot posters and further enlarged 105% (clay shrinks 5% when fired). Kurkchiev then divided the art into thousands of individual tiles, each alphanumerically coded, to make the final patterns for the two walls. "Each piece had to fit perfectly or it wouldn't work," says Lazaroff.

We spoke with the two exhausted artists at their design studio, TND, in San Pedro as they finished painting and firing the final 28 of more than 14,500 tiles. *

How much time did it take to make the mural?

Kurkchiev: We started work in February of 2000. Dimitri told them it would take at least 19 months to do this, but Disney wanted it in half that time. I should say that we performed a miracle. I worked seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, hand-painting each and every tile. I couldn't take even one day off in the last six months because I was afraid we would not make it. Tomorrow we fire the last batch of tiles, and the next day I go to my doctor because my back is so bad.

Was there a lot of pressure from Disney?

Lazaroff (shrugging): You know those military parades you would see in Eastern Europe during the Cold War with all the rocket launchers and the tanks going down the street? If you were a tank driver in the Bulgarian army and your tank broke down in the parade, you would be put in prison for four or five years. That was pressure. Making ceramic tiles--that is not pressure.

What's the most impressive fact about this mural?

Kurkchiev: The size. And that it is a jigsaw puzzle ceramic mural. It is a passion of the art world right now to do broken mosaic tile murals, but anyone could do that. What we did is much more unique. You can feel the movement in the leaping whale and see the whiskers on the animals, whereas mosaic work is beautiful but dead. This is very alive.

What are you going to do when this project is completed?

Kurkchiev (laughing): Believe it or not, we're going to Disneyland. In Japan.

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