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The larger-than-life birds of Tacoma artist Curtis Ashby

Local muralist encourages community to look up during a tough time. #k5evening

Almost five years ago, we featured Tacoma artist Curtis Ashby on our show, highlighting his colorful murals which began popping up around the city.

We checked in with Ashby this year and weren’t surprised to find that he is making more art now than ever before ─ all thanks to the pandemic.

“Art is just my outlet, my way of expressing,” Ashby explained. “Since COVID pushed me back into the studio a little bit more, it forced me to kind of challenge my artistic direction and also make me question, ‘Why am I making art?’”

Credit: KING
Ashby's murals add pops of color and life to the streets of Tacoma.

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Taking his art to the streets, Ashby realized that public art is his way of contributing to the community during a time of need.

“I’ve been painting a bunch of murals here in Tacoma,” he said. “For me, I want to bring happiness and joy to people in the community. Placing murals on sides of buildings feels like a free art gallery.”

Even Ashby himself found that his murals brighten his drives around town. Sometimes, he will leave the house just to visit his art.

“I’ll admit, I have driven by this wall quite a few times just to stand back and admire it,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling, it just feels so good like I really accomplished something substantial.”

Credit: KING
Ashby drives by his mural to feel the joy that comes with the accomplishment.

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Just as his art makes the city pop, the city provides his art with the home it deserves.

“Tacoma is a great place for art. The city itself promotes art and artists,” Ashby said.

The pandemic has given way for more art in numerous ways, like pushing Ashby to refine his craft. Another way is through the blank canvases of boarded-up windows.

“There’s still been buildings that have been boarded up due to lack of business or sometimes vandalism,” Ashby explained. “I’ve been able to paint some of the boarded-up windows, just being able to brighten up that space a little bit.”

Credit: KING
During the pandemic, boarded-up businesses gave artists like Ashby blank canvases to fill.

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Curtis’ main source of inspiration for these murals? Birds.

“To me, birds feel like a symbol of hope for some people, a positive sign in their life,” he said. “On top of that, it’s my way of bringing awareness to the birds that you can see here in the city.”

He especially encourages people to look out for his favorite bird: the kingfisher.

“You see them skimming around on the water here in Tacoma a lot and I just love their sound. They’re just such energetic little birds.”

So, if you’re driving by Tacoma, look out for lovely birds in the sky, on the water, and on the walls — because this artist is not stopping anytime soon.

“I’m gonna have an old gray beard and still be working away until I get super old,” Ashby laughed.

Credit: KING
Ashby plans on making art as long as he can.

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