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Sprouting from the concrete

November 22, 2007|Lisa Boone | Times Staff Writer

LIKE the Hudson River School paintings that inspire her, artist Karen Blackwood has created a landscape of detailed naturalism. But rather than painting on canvas, she chose a concrete wall for her sprawling mural.

The cinder-block wall that separates her driveway from her Burbank neighbors' property was an eyesore, as far as she was concerned.

"I just couldn't look at it anymore," she says, "and planting was not an option" in the area between concrete driveway and wall.

The artist solved her problem by hand painting scenery similar to the landscape murals she has been commissioned to create in homes in Hancock Park and West Hollywood.

With the help of her contractor neighbor who shares the wall, Blackwood first smoothed the rough-hewn concrete blocks with plaster. She then primed the wall and added a base coat before painting the landscape with acrylic artist paint.

Green and brown trees soften the flat surface, and a fanciful winding path gives the illusion of depth and perspective. Flowers and vines -- some of which she likes to joke that she invented -- create a romantic composition that reminds the New Hampshire native of New England. The trees she painted meld into the tops of real ones next door, creating the illusion of an orchard.

"I painted it so the wall would go away," she says.

Gaze at the wall from a distance, and you'll see that she succeeded. With its hedges and such lovely surprises as butterflies and birds, you'd never guess it was a wall. Walk closer and the line of demarcation becomes apparent. But admiring gardeners and neighbors aren't the only ones who have been fooled by the landscape.

"The birds were flying up to it," says Blackwood, "but they quickly figured it out."

The mural gives the area a sense of lushness, with its shadows and light. "It has made such a huge difference looking out the window," Blackwood says. "From the backyard, the kitchen window, or when I get out of my car, all I see is nature.

"And," she says, laughing, "I never have to water it."


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