by Mallory Moad
“Leave Elvis alone.”
It’s a Tuesday morning in the middle of July in Downtown Fresno, and Leon Alchian has voiced his opinion about The King.
“Don’t touch Elvis.”
The Elvis in question is one part of a colossal mural being painted by local artist, Brian Broughton. The work in progress on the wall of Majestic Jewelry & Loan Co., owned by Leon, is the latest contribution to Fresno’s downtown revitalization movement. Entitled Rock & Roll Legends, it is a tribute to classic rock and roll musicians from the 1950s and 1960s. The light-hearted discussion concerns Elvis’s skin tone, which is closer to a peach than rock royalty. The businessman likes it, the artist doesn’t. How will this end?
Brian is a working artist, something you don’t see every day. And he’s working a lot, having made a name for himself as the local go-to guy for murals. For sixteen years he has produced over 200 pieces, transforming bare, boring walls into rainforests, whimsical menageries, landscapes, and fantasy worlds. His work can be seen throughout the Central Valley and Bay Area in restaurants, medical offices, and daycare centers as well as numerous private homes. Rock & Roll Legends is his first time producing art in a public place.
There has never been a time when making art wasn’t part of Brian’s life. “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” he says. “I guess I became aware of my talent in elementary school, where I spent most of my time doodling.” Although he has been employed in semi-art-related positions in the past, most of them didn’t adequately make use of his abilities, and his skills were under-appreciated. Working for himself has given him not only the freedom of being his own boss, but creative flexibility, too. “I love painting for a living, working with the brush! Every project is different and in a different place. And I love the energy I get from people’s excitement over a project.” Brian is self-taught and perfected his techniques through trial-and-error, curiosity, and persistence. “I got faster and discovered what all the different shaped brushes are for, instead of trying to do everything with a #8 round!”
Rock & Roll Legends is one of the largest murals Brian has created. Work began on the twenty-by-eighty foot wall in what is known as Home Run Alley on May 16. When completed, the colorful retro design will pay homage to sixteen icons of the classic rock and roll era. Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana and Jim Morrison will be represented in stunning six-foot-tall portraits. The theme was Leon Alchian’s idea. “I wanted to draw attention to my building. I love classic rock, and I had someone like Brian to fulfill my request.” He and Brian worked together to decide which well-known performers would enliven up an otherwise nondescript, but appropriately named, alley near Grizzlies Stadium.
Brian has been spending seven hours a day, five days a week on a ladder, a scaffold, and on the ground. The first week was spent prepping the wall’s surface, then drawing in lettering and images. Enlarged photos, projected onto sheets of paper, were transferred to the background using graphite paper, then filled in using high-quality exterior house paint. As the weather has gotten hotter, he has adjusted his schedule accordingly, beginning at 8:00 a.m. and taking a two-hour break during the hottest part of the afternoon. Work is resumed after the sun has cleared his work space, leaving it in shade. He has enjoyed working in this urban setting and finds downtown Fresno attractive and inspiring. “I love working downtown! There’s just enough hustle and bustle to keep things interesting, and the folks who hang out downtown have been very friendly and enthusiastic about the project.”
Rock & Roll legends will be officially unveiled on August 4 with a street – or in this case, alley – party sponsored by Majestic Jewelry & Loan Co. and Downtown Fresno Partnership. It will be a truly local celebration with food trucks, a beer garden, local crafters selling their wares, and live local bands including rock cover band, First Gear, in which Brian plays bass – a story for another day.
But what about Elvis? Will his face remain the color of a fuzzy fruit, or will he be redone in gray scale? Meet me in front of the awesome mural in the alley just off Tulare street and we can see how the story ends together.
My name is Mallory Moad and I love public art and rock & roll.
The unveiling of Rock & Roll Legends will take place in the alley behind Majestic Jewelry & Loan Co, 1924 Tulare Street, from 5 p.m.– 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 4. For native Fresnans, that’s right behind the J.C. Penney building. For everyone else, it’s next to Grizzly Stadium. All ages are welcome.