New La Jolla mural toasts Raymond Chandler, Whaling Bar

Representing all the artists with roots in San Diego and La Jolla — from Jim Morrison and Tom Waits to Cliff Robertson and Dr. Seuss — the latest installation in the Murals of La Jolla public art program shines a spotlight on late author Raymond Chandler, his book “Playback” set in La Jolla (disguised as the town of “Esmeralda”), and the La Jolla bar where the artists gathered.

Raúl Guerrero’s mural, “Raymond Chandler at the Whaling Bar,” went up March 27 at 1162 Prospect St. It replaces the William Wegman mural, “Opening,” that has been there since 2014.

“We have an outstanding group of artists that have emerged from the art community of San Diego,” Guerrero told La Jolla Light. “These include musicians, actors, authors, etc. My image of Raymond Chandler is a metaphor for all these artists.”

Guerrero’s image depicts Chandler contemplatively sitting in the old Whaling Bar at La Valencia Hotel (the bar was renovated and renamed Café La Rue in 2013) where celebrities such as Gregory Peck, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and the like would come to wet their whistles.

The mural includes a reference to the famed painting that hung on the back wall, which was removed with the renovation.

While sitting at the bar, smoke emits from Chandler’s pipe spelling the word “Esmeralda,” the pseudonym the author gave La Jolla in “Playback.” Next to him sits a sultry woman in a copper-colored dress, a luxurious purple stole draped across her back. Is she his inspiration? Would she ultimately become a character in a future story? Is she even there at all?

“I set the image around 1953, when Chandler was living in La Jolla. … Collectively, I thought of it as a noir-looking image celebrating him hanging out at the Whaling Bar with his characters,” Guerrero said.

The artist has spent nearly 20 years painting works centered in bars, so setting his Mural of La Jolla piece in a bar was a natural fit. Without knowing the Whaling Bar would close, Guerrero painted it as part of his broader series.

According to his artist’s statement (in 1999): “I was inspired to begin a series of paintings about artist bars. Within a decade, I had created a wide variety of paintings and drawing depicting artists bars spanning from San Diego to Paris, France, which were done in a variety of media and styles all attempting to capture the muses that inspired the artists in these places.

“The first series focused primarily on The Whaling Bar. This collection was eventually exhibited at the Athenaeum & Music Library in La Jolla in 2006. Later, an exhibition of the paintings was presented at Air de Paris in 2014. In a happenstance way, I now think the entire project was prescient of the yet-to-come opportunity to create an artwork for the Murals of La Jolla program with this subject in mind.”

And Chandler would have approved.

Before his death in 1959, Chandler was quoted as saying: “I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean, and everything is shiny, and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat, and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar — that’s wonderful.”

Chandler, who penned many scripts for Paramount Studios in the 1940s and wrote four best-selling novels, moved to La Jolla in 1946 and spent the last 13 years of his life here.

Guerrero grew up in National City in a third-generation Mexican-American family. He went to art school in Los Angeles and studied architecture and urban planning, before moving to San Diego in 1980.

Currently teaching art at UC San Diego, Guerrero said it was an “honor” to participate in the Murals of La Jolla program: “This is some of the best art around, and given the number of fine artists who’ve participated, who wouldn’t want to?”

Project curator Lynda Forsha said of the piece: “Raúl’s mural image will pique interest because of its narrative content and will surely lead to lively discussions in the community regarding its very intriguing history! His image is related to Kota Ezawa’s recent mural ‘Once Upon a Time in the West,’ in that it addresses specific people and places in La Jolla’s history, but the similarities stop there. In fact, they couldn’t be more different in how each artist creates an image and that’s really interesting in terms of the public looking and thinking about this outdoor collection of artworks.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE? Murals of La Jolla was conceived in 2010 as a means to enhance the civic character of the community by commissioning public art projects on private property throughout La Jolla. It is a project of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library initiated by the La Jolla Community Foundation. For a look-and-see list of the murals in the program, visit muralsoflajolla.com

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