Gulf states flooded. The West Coast burned. Politics were often a cesspool. A new disease kept people from hugging.
For Janesville artist Jim Richter, 2020 also is the year he didn’t get picked to paint a mural for the Art Infusion festival.
Richter turned his disappointment into a mural of his own, self-financed, on a downtown building his sister owns.
“It’s been such a rough year, so just something positive: Keep looking up,” Richter said of his mural’s title and theme.
The gaily colored mural on the alley side of 111 W. Milwaukee St. features balloons drifting into a blue sky with white clouds.
Richter plans to add a girl with her back to the viewer, looking up as the balloons float away. In a corner near the bottom will be Elvis Presley.
The bars over the building’s windows made Richter think of Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” song and movie. He plans to have Elvis releasing the balloons.
As he painted, more ideas came to Richter, including a mirror as one of the windowpanes near Elvis, so people could see themselves in the artwork, or take selfies.
And he plans to paint a white plastic vent pipe yellow, a nod to the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”
Richter might add other subtle elements. He hopes viewers will come away with new insights each time they see it.
Some of the brick of the 151-year-old building has broken away as he worked on it, Richter said. But the structure has sentimental value for him. His mother, Naomi, ran Richter Realty from it for a time. The Rock County Democratic Party is using the ground floor for its campaign headquarters.
Richter has murals on two other walls downtown. One is the Janesville postcard mural in the alley behind the first block of West Milwaukee Street. The other is at the corner of High and Milwaukee streets. Featuring images of classic Chevrolets, it is known as the Janesville icons mural.
The new mural will cover the three-story wall from top to bottom, but viewers will see the massive, rusty iron fire escape in front of it. Richter plans to scrape the rust and spray-paint the metal, which he sees as adding an additional artistic element to the work.
One viewer saw the rusty stairways as a commentary on 2020: Keep looking up, but you’ll have to ignore a bit of ugliness to do it.
Richter has quit his other jobs because, at age 65, he doesn’t want to get exposed to the coronavirus, so he is hoping his art can keep him going.