Artist Beautifies Bay Area Cities by Painting Art on Public Utility Boxes

Artist Beautifies Bay Area Cities by Painting Art on Public Utility Boxes

A painting of a hummingbird by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Helen Billings

Helen Billings

2/13/2024

Updated: 2/13/2024

While driving up to a stoplight, you might have noticed that painting art on public utility boxes has been a growing trend, with many cities joining in. Using these utility boxes as blank canvasses has been a way for cities to let local artists use their imaginations and bring color and beauty to their city streets.
A mural of a cat looking into an aquarium by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

A mural of a cat looking into an aquarium by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

Artist and muralist Suzanne Gayle from Hayward, California, has painted almost 50 of these boxes around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Artist Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

Artist Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

She told The Epoch Times: “The idea to originally paint utility boxes was to deter people from tagging and graffiti and damaging the boxes. However, it’s been nice because it’s become community involved by allowing individuals, residents, to make suggestions for … ideas, designs, and locations, and so that brings them in and makes them feel more involved and part of the community as well.”
A painting of a lotus flower with a Chinese character by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of a lotus flower with a Chinese character by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

She said she aims to cheer people up with her designs, whether they’re heading off to work or coming home after a long day.
“My goal is to work with bright colors and brighten people’s day,” she said.
A painting of a koi fish by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of a koi fish by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Ms. Gayle mentioned that her paintings are designed to wrap around the whole box, to draw the viewer in.
“You have to make sure you’ve got appropriate measurements for your designs so that when you’re designing it, everything works from different views … whether people are walking, or more likely driving by,” she said.
Cherry blossoms painted by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Cherry blossoms painted by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Livermore, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

She said the process starts with submitting an idea to the city. If the idea is chosen, next is the prep work, from sanding down the box to applying a special adhesion primer that keeps the paint from peeling. For the artwork, she uses a UV-resistant latex paint to prevent sun damage, and she finishes off the box by applying an anti-graffiti coating.
A painting of a horse by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of a horse by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Her latest project was painting three boxes for the city of Hayward. Along with a horse and a mountain lion, Ms. Gayle painted a hummingbird on the third box to bring something more colorful and bright to the series, she told NTD, a sister media of The Epoch Times.
A painting of a mountain lion by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of a mountain lion by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

“It started with one of the residents making a suggestion for the first box. They wanted a horse-themed box in this community because people own ranches and have horses around here and there’s a lot of trails and a lot of nature,” Ms. Gayle said.
Ms. Gayle’s art company is called Star Arts, and she has been a professional artist for 35 years. She has created over 100 pieces of public art, which include murals, paintings, and sculptures at municipal sites, schools, and libraries throughout Alameda County and the greater Bay Area.
A mural of Suzanne Gayle’s cat that she painted on a dumpster enclosure. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

A mural of Suzanne Gayle’s cat that she painted on a dumpster enclosure. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

Her local public commissions include projects in Castro Valley, Dublin, Hayward, Fremont, and San Leandro. She is a former appointed member of the Alameda County Arts Commission. She has also volunteered her services to the community, painting art and mentoring students at local schools.
A painting by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in San Ramon, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in San Ramon, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

She said she likes to paint big murals because it incorporates moving the whole body. She added that painting takes her “into a nice, relaxing, peaceful state.”
“When I’m focusing, I get really driven into the art, but part of my brain is also resting and relaxing, and that is very meditative,” she said. “I don’t even realize sometimes how far I’ve painted or what I’ve gotten done, because that other part of me kind of takes over.”
A painting of fish underwater by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in San Ramon, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of fish underwater by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in San Ramon, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Through painting public art, she has been able to meet many different people who live in the different neighborhoods and has enjoyed conversations sharing different thoughts and ideas with them, she said.
“We have a very diverse community here,” she said.
A few years back, Ms. Gayle became wheelchair bound, which has slowed her down, but she is still painting even though she gets sore afterwards at times.
A painting of a frog by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

A painting of a frog by Suzanne Gayle on a public utility box in Hayward, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2024. (Helen Billings/The Epoch Times)

Lately she is turning her focus to her new nonprofit, Stars Arts, which is to help artists of her community who lack resources. Stars Arts helps them develop their skills and share their art. Her first project is helping some kids at juvenile hall paint a mural.
She said cities usually don’t pay much to paint the boxes, and a few cities will just give you the primer and the anti-graffiti coating. She said that’s why she is starting Stars Arts, because she has the liability insurance needed, the ladders, scaffolding, and all the equipment to paint public art.
A building mural by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

A building mural by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

“That’s one of the things that I would like to do for young emerging artists … that just don’t have the money to do it, or people who are like me, physically disabled, and need a lot of this stuff. They would never think they could do something like that, but I want to be able to show them … and teach them how they can do it,” she said.
Heart-shaped art by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

Heart-shaped art by Suzanne Gayle. (Courtesy of Suzanne Gayle)

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Helen Billings

Helen Billings

Author

Helen Billings is a Certified Western Herbalist, and has studied Holistic Nutrition and Homeopathy. She is a reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she covers California news.

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