In early 2012 I was launching a new life after an almost death in December 2011. Part of that New Life has been Quirky Berkeley.
I talked with Sally Woodbridge, a mentor to me, about my ideas for the project. When I described my thoughts about Quirky Berkeley, her first words were “Mark Bulwinkle.”
Sally is usually right. She was right here. Mark Bulwinkle is the true north of Quirky Berkeley.
We know Bulwinkle’s work with steel and tin and ceramic tile and prints and postcards. But there is also Bulwinkle the wall-painter. I present here four examples of his wall painting in chronological order.
Between 1975 and 1991 Bulwinkle lived on Manilla Street in North Oakland. He built an immense, fantastical steel jungle in the front yard. He was asked what the inside of the house looked like. He said, “Just like the outside except that it’s painted. Like Technicolor.”
He sent me these photos of the painted walls and ceilings:
Okay – that’s quite a start! I have found one professional photo taken at the Manilla house, by Alexander Vertikoff and from his Weird Rooms book.
In 1991, Bulwinkle split the sheets and moved from Manilla into a converted refrigerated shipping container on Hannah Street in West Oakland. He writes: “My little home cost me $100 and had no windows so I was apt to sleep all day.” It was while living in this space that Bulwinkle famously said no to an appearance on the Oprah show.
He covered the interior walls with paintings and art. All that I have seen is the outside of the container with a painted door.
In this card that Bulwinkle made he is in front of the door with one of his Boxers.
He sent me photos from the inside of the trailer with the caveat: “I hope that they will not tarnish my spotless reputation and resume.” They include several photos of the inside of said painted door, on which is hung his industrial welder’s suit.
A few shots of the walls:
Granted – poor lighting. But that granted, Jesus – a lot came out in these paintings.
After a year in the container, Bulwinkle bought and moved into a little teardrop trailer. He writes: “It was an old whore house on the street in which the pimp expired. It cost me $80 and had the advantage of windows. Now, the house next door has sold for $850,000 and sits on less land. It was the wild west, it was.”
He painted the inside of the trailer.
The fourth and final example is in Marcia Donahue’s kitchen. These three photos were made by Alexander Vertikoff and are from his Weird Rooms book, from the early 2000’s. He kindly gave me permission to use these photos. Shameless plug: Weird Rooms is an incredible book. Right up my alley. And words by Mal Sharpe, a hero of mine who gave me huge help on a yet-unfulfilled project five years ago.
Most of the painted walls are painted over and hung with textiles. What remains is mainly the ceiling of her kitchen.
For the record, one of the four locations presented here is in Berkeley, which makes the rest fair game.
So there you go – painted walls. It occurs to me that I have gotten this far and not used, or even thought of, the word “mural.” I don’t see these as murals. I see them as painted walls and ceilings. Is this a difference without a distinction? Or a distinction without a difference?
I had an email to give my friend but first I showed him the photos. He had a visible reaction to the reefer/container photos. “Damn!” he said. And then in a another minute, “Damn.”
What about the painted walls as a a whole?