Artist Designs Murals for Curious Times

Aegean mural
Several homes in artist Martha Sakellariou's neighborhood now sport her mysterious, compelling images. This one, of the Aegean Sea, is across from the artist's own home. Photo by Jennifer Gloss

In the Greek capitol of Athens, where she is from, Martha Sakellariou created images of a woman in apparent yet mysterious distress in empty, dilapidated rooms. “I know I’ll disappoint you,” the words on her apron read.

The rooms themselves have a history, once occupied by locals, now owned by “foreign landlords who quickly repurpose them into temporary-style housing for transient visitors,” in the words of her website.

Shortly before the pandemic hit, Sakellariou was preparing another project centered in a home and delving into histories and feelings, the Gamble House and Garden in Palo Alto. But then the virus hit, and there was only one place for Sakellariou to be.

Home.

Empty room
An empty room that Martha Sakellariou photographed in Greece now creates a sense of change, of history, perhaps of memory, on the garage door of her own Eichler. Photo by Martha Sakellariou

“The whole world is experiencing the things I have been exploring in my work: home, domesticity, feelings of isolation,” she says. “How your home can be a place of escape and entrapment at the same time.”

Sakellariou, who studied art in Athens and at the Royal College of Art in Britain, where she lived 20 years, has resided in many homes – currently in an Eichler, which once hosted an installation she dubbed 'Suburban stories in curious times.'

Much of her work deals with history, memory, and “the tensions of domesticity, the rituals of everyday life,” she says. Because of the pandemic, she says, “My work didn’t just become relevant. It became a global reality, in a way.”

For the first three months of the pandemic, while her husband went to work for a tech startup deemed essential, Sakellariou stayed home, a full-time homemaker educating and entertaining her two sons, 7 and 10.

  Martha working
Sakellariou installing one of her murals. Courtesy of the artist
 

The Gamble House was on hold, maybe for good. For months she could not go to her studio at Palo Alto’s Cubberley Center, where she had recently created a much loved and expansive installation.

“I was very scared, and isolated from my friends,” she says, adding, “I was talking to friends overseas and my local friends online.”

But in the evening, when her husband came home, she went for walks, usually an hour at a clip, same route every time, as a ritual. She looked at houses and photographed them when inspired.

“I love houses, houses as structures, and the idea that houses tell the story of people and places,” Sakellariou says. Back home she would digitally manipulate the photos “to capture the sense of memory I had and what I thought.

“But I felt like nothing could replace physicality. I do environments, and I connect with people on a physical space,” she says.

Bubble mural
 
This image shows a woman with a bubble. "Our homes are little bubbles," the artist says. "We stay in the bubble to try to protect and shelter ourselves." Photo by Joy Cleveringa

Then Facebook dinged her with a reminder that just a year ago she’d done the Cubberley project, which involved talking to and recording people and creating a large photo mural.

It got her to thinking again about photo murals. She hung a few existing prints in her backyard as a test, and then imagined a public project tied to the homes she walks by on her strolls.

Soon she was talking to neighbors.

“She asked me a few weeks ago if I would mind if she posted [a print] on my wall,” says Jennifer Buenrostro, who lives across Greer Road from the artist.

Sakellariou uses her own formulation of paste to attach her photos to people’s wall so removal will not leave stains. She installs them alone or with her older son or husband.

Clothing mural
This mural shows clothing hanging. Photo by Jennifer Gloss

So far she has placed murals on six homes in the neighborhood, some close to her house, some ten minutes away. All on her walking route. More murals are likely to appear. All are temporary.

Buenrostro says: “It makes the neighborhood feel alive, like there’s something going on. Somebody has something to say, and they’re able to say it right here in our neighborhood.”

“I became incredibly eager to reconnect to my community, my neighborhood,” Sakellariou says, noting how tight the community can be, with neighbors helping out, delivering books and homemade bread [from Jennifer’s husband] during the lockdown.

She loves her Eichler, in part for its history. “This home represents a sort of philosophy of social equality and diversity, and respect for the local culture, and respect for the local environment. It’s not about the sofa in the living room, or the kitchen. It’s about the way we live our lives,” she says.

“I am living in an Eichler that has a different history than my history, yet I own this history and I’m part of this history,” she adds. “The question of how many places you can call home and how many histories you can own is a very important one for me.”

“We don’t have an established existence. We are fluid, and we are part of our current and past and future histories.”

To view Martha Sakellariou’s photo murals, visit Greer Road south of Oregon Expressway. Addresses are 2290, 2293, 2349, and 2275 Greer Road, 904 Elsinore Drive, and 2285 St. Francis Drive.

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