ABERDEEN — Last year, the civic and arts group Our Aberdeen gave artist Erik Sandgren a choice: commemorate the history of Aberdeen or the birth of Nirvana. Sandgren, who heads the art department at Grays Harbor College, chose to do both.
Sandgren and a team of four more artists created a 68-foot mural entitled “Nirvana and Aberdeen” that now adorns the side of Moore’s Interiors facing Wishkah Street near the center of town. The mural has been up for a few weeks, but the official dedication was Saturday, Sept. 20, with a street festival and dance following on Broadway, near the mural.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, whom the artists consulted, spoke at the dedication. One of the band’s two founders along with singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, Novoselic resides in the Rosburg area of Western Wahkiakum County, where he is active in civic life.
Nirvana, which rose to worldwide fame during its 1987-1994 existence, had deep connections in Grays Harbor County that overlapped into Pacific County, where the band played its first public performance. Over 75 million of the band’s records have sold. It was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.
For the Nirvana mural, Sandgren sought the collaboration of four young artists from the Harbor who had studied with him: Dominic Senibaldi, David Wall, Anthony James Cotham and Jason Sobottka. Together, they put an estimated 720 hours of work into the mural, first collaborating by sending each other thoughts and drawings electronically.
Cotham is an engineering student at Portland State University. Senibaldi is an adjunct professor at Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. Sobottka lives in Tacoma and is an instructor in visual arts and humanities at Lake Washington Institute of Technology. And Wall is enrolled in a master’s teaching program at The Evergreen State College.
They spent a month working together in the Electric Building downtown, in a donated space.
The mural is executed with durable enamel spray paint on D-bond panels, which are relatively light weight and have a plastic core covered with thin, aluminum exteriors. The panels were installed with the help of Rick Burgess of Coastline Signs, Sandgren noted in his artist statement.
“The collage of imagery recognizable to those who know the music and its milieu was first laid out on the panels in soluble stabilo pencils, then the quick setting enamels were applied by brushes, air brush, printing, stippling and hand-cut stencils” his artist statement says.
The floating baby and money near the center of the work are signal imagery from the album cover of “Nevermind,” the album that brought the Nirvana its initial fame. The “In Utero” album is suggested by a heart-shaped box, which is the title of one of the songs on the record. The names of bands influential to Nirvana surround the rectangular piece.
Aberdeen native Cobain, who took his own life in 1994, is shown in the center facing an audience with his back to the viewer. “It is not about Kurt Cobain alone, though it acknowledges his tragic arc: rather it memorialized Nirvana as a group — to some extent it presents … where it all began,” Sandgren notes.
“One cannot get over the sad and sorry loss of Kurt Cobain. His train wreck of a life contrasts poignantly with the ongoing vitality of Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic as people and as musicians,” Sandgren wrote.
Novoselic and Cobain were best friends. Grohl and Novoselic played at Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring with a series of female rockers covering Cobain’s part.
In his artist’s statement at nirvanamural.com, Cotham, who is from Hoquiam, wrote that he did not “get Nirvana until I moved back home to mom’s house in Hoquiam (and) I found art and punk rock. This mural was a chance for me to showcase two things I love to a community I care about.”
One of the questions Cotham asked himself was: “‘How do we pull this off without turning into complete dorks in the eyes of the music community that I want to continue having a good standing in?’ I think we pulled it off. And we did it by being objective, tasteful and well-informed. Informed, thanks in no small part to the supportive and direct involvement of Krist Novoselic — which I’m still geekily stoked about,” he wrote.