Simon Quist, left, Lanie Spencer, Joe Massey and David Malia discuss the mural at 216 Water St. in Augusta on Monday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The eyes on the multi-colored faces stare back at passersby while the words painted among them offer thoughts of inspiration.

The nearly three-story-high mural by California artist Kris Markovich, titled “Look,” was commissioned by the Augusta Downtown Alliance. The work is part of an effort to bring color and life and a more modern feel to what was an otherwise largely ignored part of downtown that focused more on function than form. The effort also included painting steps that run from Commercial Street up to Oak Street in the same array of colors as the mural, with an inspirational quote from a Stephen King book for people to read as they’re walking up the steps.

While the steps were painted by Augusta Downtown Alliance volunteers, the alliance reached out to a nationally known artist — and skateboarder — to create the mural of many faces on the Commercial Street side of the Macomber Block building, current home to a coffee house and future home to a planned new pop-up art gallery.

Markovich’s work is on a big scale, but also includes smaller details best observed up close. It incorporates and snakes over and around the building infrastructure such as pipes and wires on the wall. And interspersed among the faces are phrases and words, including “Community,” “LOVE,” “DREAM,” “Be Kind,” “Strength” and “Redemption.”

Markovich said normally if a mural is left 100% up to him, the words on it come fluidly based on the feeling and energy he’s getting from the site as he works. In Augusta, however, he asked people who were passing by or watching him paint what they wanted to see on the wall. The suggestions included “May we all live to see another day,” which he painted on the door of the resident who suggested that phrase.

“The concept was kind of mutual, with a positive vibe on the words,” Markovich said Friday.

The work has thus far been the subject of rave reviews, on social media and from those who live and work near it.

“We love it, we think it’s amazing and a great piece of art that adds something special to Commercial Street,” said Grace Fecteau, who with her husband, Justin, co-owns Huiskamer Coffee House. They are tenants in the building owned by Guerrette Properties. “We love it because it makes our building stand out. I see people, like when I’m taking out the trash and stuff, slowing down to read the words. One customer told me they read a different word each time they go by.”

The artwork was sought out by the Augusta Downtown Alliance, and sponsored by Smart Eye Care.

Michael Hall, alliance executive director, saw a mural Markovich painted on the interior wall at State Lunch, met him and was impressed with his work.

Markovich, came to Augusta through his connection to Tobias Parkhurst, a co-owner of State Lunch and owner of other downtown properties, when both were professional skateboarders and used to skate for some of the same teams.

Markovich said Parkhurst messaged him about coming to Maine and he jumped at the chance because it was one of the few places he hadn’t been before.

In conjunction with a new downtown mural, the stairs climbing from Commercial Street to Oak Street were recently painted with a quote from a Stephen King book. From bottom to top, the quote from “The Shawshank Redemption” reads: “Remember hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Markovich said he always painted as a kid, and when he was touring as a professional skateboarder he was always drawing as he traveled. He said he got injured but was still touring with a skating team so, when he couldn’t skate, he would bring a backpack full of spray cans with him and paint ramps in skate parks. Eventually he moved from skate park walls and ramps to painting murals on restaurants and other walls.

Smart Eye Care’s Dr. Jessilin Quint had expressed interest in the business sponsoring something with the downtown alliance, so Hall suggested to her a mural by Markovich, whose work often focuses upon eyes.

Smart Eye Care has offices in Farmingdale, Bangor and Augusta, though its Augusta site is on Western Avenue, not downtown.

“I showed her this guy’s work and what he’s about and she loved it; because of the eyes, it seemed like a natural fit,” Hall said.

Smart Eye Care paid for Markovich’s labor, while the downtown alliance covered the cost of his supplies. He completed the work about a week ago. What the mural would consist of was left up to Markovich.

“We left it up to the artist; eyes are a big part of his work, they’re all over southern California,” Hall said. “I don’t think people realize how big a deal this muralist is, it’s a real honor. He has a huge following, his work is nationally renowned. People travel to see them.

“I just said bold, for the color scheme,” he added. “He went with a color scheme that already spoke to Augusta, that we already had downtown.”

The artist, Hall said, drew inspiration for the color scheme from the colors of other downtown buildings and from a print he spotted on a wall inside Huiskamer Coffee House.

Heather Pouliot, president of the downtown alliance, said she and others have gotten lots of feedback about the work of art. All of it has been positive so far, which she and Hall said is probably rare for a piece of public art.

Combined with recent improvements made to Commercial Street by the city, including new sidewalks and streetlights, Pouliot said the artwork has brought a new, modern feel to the previously industrial-looking street.

“I think it turned out amazing,” said Pouliot, who with her husband, Matt, owns property in the downtown. “It brings a totally different feel to Commercial Street, which was always more of an afterthought and is now more a space you could hang out and feel good in.”

A short distance away from the mural on Commercial Street, volunteers painted a set of steps that climbs some of the steep hill above downtown, from Commercial Street, across a gravel parking lot and up to Oak Street, in the same colorful palette Markovich used on the mural.

As walkers climb the steps they can read a quote from the Stephen King book and movie “Shawshank Redemption,” which states “Remember hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

They were painted by Hall and alliance board members Larry Fleury and Kyia Bryant, and Bryant’s husband, Derrick Perry. The List Salon and Gallery and Kennebec Valley Coaching, which are both on Oak Street, sponsored that project.

“It was sort of on the fly, we wanted a positive quote, related to Maine,” Hall said of the quote on the newly painted steps. “We were happy to do that. It should be a really good splash of vibrancy on Commercial Street.”

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