UA Alumnus Paints Tucson's Largest Mural

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The man behind the animal cycling mural, the clownfish mural on 191 Toole and the multiple artist murals that pop up on the Rialto Theatre strikes again, and this time he’s outdoing himself.

Joe Pagac, a University of Arizona alumnus, painted Tucson’s largest mural, located at 2320 N. Campbell Ave. The mural portrays giant whales swimming over a desert. 

“It’s the biggest mural I have ever done,” Pagac said. “It’s 5,000 square feet, so it’s the biggest mural in Tucson now.”

Pagac has been painting full-time for about 15 years now. He was encouraged by one of his UA professors to pursue art as a career.

“I took a drawing 101 class sophomore year and my professor pulled me aside and said that I should be an artist for a living because I was really good,” Pagac said. “So, I switched majors and decided to pursue art.”

Pagac, along with three other artists, were commissioned by Banner — University Medical Center to paint five new murals in efforts to beautify Tucson.

“Banner Health was looking to do a number of beautification murals around the city and I was one of the artists contacted to help paint it,” Pagac said.

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Chad Whelan, CEO of Banner UMC, said in a press release that Tucson’s murals contribute to its culture. 

“The city’s vibrant arts scene and colorful murals are part of what makes Tucson special,” Whelan said in the press release. “We were looking for relaxing artwork that speaks to health, healing and togetherness.”

According to Pagac, ICU Art, a group that comes out of Los Angeles, also helped put the whole project together. 

“They had five different murals go up at the same time so ICU Art works with us to coordinate everything, make sure it went smoothly and make sure Banner got the look they were looking for from each mural,” Pagac said.

ICU Art is a media and production company that specializes in murals. According to Stash Maleski, who runs ICU Art, they have artists all around the country design and paint murals for the company. 

Maleski had done a few murals in Tucson and worked with artists in Phoenix, but was interested in finding more artists in Tucson. After talking to people at Banner UMC, Maleski was able to start working on the project.

“We found the murals' locations, the artists and I helped with the design and production process of painting the murals,” Maleski said.

The wall of what used to be a Bookmans now features giant whales swimming over cactus and mountains. Pagac had already designed the artwork on the wall prior to this project and was looking for funding to paint it. With Banner UMC's help, he was able to paint something massive. 

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“It’s kind of a nod to Wyland who used to paint a lot of whales and stuff like that back in the 80s and a little bit of a nod to Fantasia with the whales swimming,” Pagac said. “I thought that it would be fun to have just out above the desert so they are going to be swimming over cactus and mountains.”

With its bright colors, nice scenery and massive whales, the mural is hard to miss.

“I think it’s great,” Maleski said. “I thought it was very original, refreshing and eye popping.”

This is the first mural where Pagac hasn’t used a single brush. He said that he has painted the whole mural using a Wagner paint sprayer he got from Home Depot.     

Pagac has been going out and painting every morning until the weather gets the best of him. In order to beat the heat, Pagac said he dumps six gallons of water on him.

“Just getting up every morning at 4 a.m. and then going out and working until it’s too hot to be out there anymore,” Pagac said. “When I run out of water, that’s when I go home.”

Spanning 5,000 square feet, Pagac’s mural is the largest in Tucson. Having already held the title from a previous mural, Pagac has beaten himself.

“It feels good,” Pagac said. “I already had the largest mural so I just outdid myself. When I had painted the other largest mural that felt really good.”

The various murals around Tucson offer the community a fresh, vibrant feel in comparison to just old buildings. Pagac believes that murals are important to the Tucson community because they are able to beautify everyone’s commute. 

“I think it’s really good to pull people out of their daily grind,” Pagac said. “I think a lot of architecture now is very gray, square and uninteresting so it’s really good to have these kinds of decorative flourishes as people make their way through the city.” 



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