Flagstaff artist Sky Black and the Mural Mice (R.E. Wall and Margaret Dewar) have joined forces on a two-year project to paint Sound of Flight. On a wall 150 feet wide and 30 feet tall, it’s believed to be the largest mural in Arizona. The trio has completed the first half of the project, located on the side of Flagstaff’s Orpheum Theater, and plans to begin the remainder next month. We spoke with Black to find out more about the ambitious project.

How did this project come to be?
I’m in oil painting and was born in Flagstaff and grew up in the Midwest. I was showing in Flagstaff for about three years, and I wanted to do a project that was big enough to leave behind and kind of show that this is where I’m from and this is where I have my roots.

I’m friends with the Orpheum, and Chris, the owner, and I had this idea to paint murals, and it was in our heads for about two years before I designed it. Chris gave me permission, I designed it and got permission from the city, and I had $2500 raised and met with [fellow Flagstaff artist] Bruce Aiken, and he approved my concept and was really excited about it but said, “You need help.” I went home and thought about it, and that’s when I got the Mural Mice on board, who have done over 10 murals around the state of Arizona.

The mural has birds, a grand piano, the Grand Canyon and famous statues. How did these subjects come together in your design?
I wanted to at first illustrate something that was such a climatic, inspirational, uplifting moment that very few people could disagree with. I was painting in my studio on another canvas, and I was painting this piano that has a light emerging out of it, and the questions came up of what’s coming out of the piano and what’s going into it, and I realized it was birds. It struck me that that’s what had to be on the mural, because I was feeling the process of designing. It’s like a climactic moment of a song. It’s a final crescendo. 

As the birds come out, they fly down the wall and eventually over the Grand Canyon. My dad is a river guide, so I’ve floated the Canyon several times and have grown up around it and wanted to paint it on a large scale. At the time that I designed it, I was very influenced by European art and the Classical era and the Renaissance, so that’s why I chose to put the statues in, as kind of an ode to that process that they went through, painting all by hand.

What is your painting process, and why is it unique?
It’s all hand-painted with palette and brush. There is no spray paint at all. What we call it is large-scale fine art. We’re not graffiti artists at all; we’re all painters with a brush and palette. 

I think big outdoor paintings and huge projects like this are a dying art. It takes a lot of patience, and some artists just want that instant gratification with spray paint, but this way the paint will last a lot longer, so it’s a much higher-quality painting. And it’s so organic and raw and real. It’s a real process. We’re trying to simulate what some of the great masters have done in the past. That’s why within the concept, I’ve designed three of the world’s most famous statues all precariously placed on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

How has the community responded to the mural?
Everyone has been so excited about it. I don’t think that I’ve heard one bad thing this whole time. We offered advertising to businesses. There have been hundreds of individual donations online. There were sometimes hundreds of people a day walking by as we painted last summer and were just so happy that we’re doing it. We got so many thank-yous. Sometimes, as a muralist, you get paid in gratitude from the people. We’re just the messengers, you know? We just paint it; I feel like I’m hogging all the fun over here. It’s really special to be a part of it.

— Kirsten Kraklio

Photo courtesy of Sky Black