Nina Katchadourian's curiously captivating 'Whale' is latest in Murals of La Jolla series

The ‘Whale,’ by Nina Katchadourian, peeks out from 1250 Prospect St. It is the 13th mural in a public art series commissioned by La Jolla Community Foundation. Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

The newest addition to the La Jolla Community Foundation’s “Murals of La Jolla” public art series, Nina Katchadourian’s “Whale,” was installed last week at 1250 Prospect St. (just south of Eddie V’s restaurant).

The work joins the foundation’s 12 other murals currently displayed on buildings throughout La Jolla.

“We are proud to be working with artists of national and international stature,” said Matthew Browar, chair of the Murals of La Jolla Art Advisory Committee and a member of the foundation’s board of directors. “Murals of La Jolla has been embraced by the community and has attracted an audience from beyond.”

Katchadourian worked with changing sight lines of the wall, giving careful consideration to scale and image placement to create “an image that would have a very still, low-key, but also strong, steady and mysterious presence.

“I wanted to use an image of a whale in a manner that would make it feel a bit like it was hiding, or hidden — one part lurking, one part furtive, one part shy,” she said.

The image is based on a high-resolution photograph by Bryant Austin. Katchadourian played with its scale, purposely not showing the edges of the animal’s body. “I think the whale in our imagination is a very, very big thing — figuratively and literally speaking,” she said. “Whales are kind of huge in our mind.”

The artist, who earned her master of fine art at UC San Diego, was back in La Jolla to view the completed installation on Feb. 9.

UC San Diego graduate and artist Nina Katchadourian with her mural on Prospect Street Feb. 9. She is in Baja, Mexico, this week, where she will film and record gray whales for a project funded by the Art Matters Foundation. Lynda Forsha

“I have of history here and it’s really nice to come back now in a professional capacity,” said Katchadourian, who traveled from La Jolla to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, Mexico this week, where Pacific gray whales come to breed and mate along their migratory path. She and collaborator Laurel Braitman, a historian of science, will collect audio and visual recordings of human interactions with whales to create an intuitive art project (funded by a grant from the Art  Matters foundation).

“There’s been this kind of curious behavior in recent decades where whales in that lagoon have become very social toward people, and, of their own accord, approach people in boats,” Katchadourian said. “They will sometimes show the young calves to the people in the boats … and no one is quite sure why this behavior has developed.

“Many people speak about the incredible experience of making eye contact with a whale,” she said. “That’s also what I hope my mural does. … It’s a way for a person on the ground or in a car going by to make a kind of eye contact with this image and to sort of think about these animals.”

Katchadourian’s work typically employs a variety of media, including sculpture, photography, videography and sound — often springing from observations and interactions with common, everyday circumstances, resulting in works that have both humor and rigor.

A long-running theme in her work deals specifically with the relationship between human and non-human animals, explored in projects like the “Mended Spiderwebs” series (1998) and the multi-channel video installation “Zoo,” shown at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2008.



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