Artists reflect on stories behind concrete paintings

Artists from various corners of Kitsap County were given a simple prompt in a Port Orchard contest last October: depict on a concrete barrier block the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.

The artists did not disappoint, and after long backups from the Bethel-Bay roundabout intersection returned briefly this spring, the painted blocks lining the walkway at Port Orchard Ford once again added color to what had become an otherwise frustrating patch of road for motorists.

These are a few of the stories for winning artwork.

A winning chest of treasures

Friends and family keyed in Arianna Keith of Kingston into a competition out of her traditional realm of art. Her work had largely been digital and, up to that point, she could not recall having painted a mural of any size. “It was just something fun and different to try and expand my experience with art. It had been a few years since I seriously painted, but I figured I’d go ahead and apply for it.”

She used the inspiration of adventure in her work, transforming her piece into a marina-inspired block of treasures. Along with her concrete barrier’s design, several painted rocks sat at the top of the block, allowing passersby to take a piece of the treasure with them.

Keith was fascinated by the reaction of drivers, saying some made the drive or the walk just to see the progress that had been made. “It was inspiring to see how artistic that little community is and how many opportunities are out there. A lot of artists have kept in touch because of this,” she said.

Keith’s painting was awarded first overall in both the competition and the artist’s choice poll. “I’ve experimented with painting, with other mediums which has been a lot of fun. Overall, it’s just given me confidence in starting to build the art community that I want to,” she said.

A tribute to Josh Comerford

Matt Corry remembered all too well one of the last times he had driven by the Port Orchard Ford, spotting a friend near the bridge at Blackjack Creek who had evidently hit rock bottom in struggles with life. “He was looking totally disheveled, down in his dumps and everything inside of me said I had to stop and see what’s going on with him. Long story short, I didn’t.”

It was the last time the longtime Kitsap artist saw his friend alive, finding out the next day he had passed away from an overdose. The news haunted Corry for years. Only months after starting to come to an understanding with his friend’s death did he receive a recommendation to participate in the contest. Rather than relapse into feelings of guilt, he said the moment was something of a reassurance. “It was almost like he was there telling me everything was alright, and it was coming full circle.”

He raced to get to work, painting on his block the faces of Henry Ford and Carroll Shelby with some well-placed racing stripes. The most important addition to his auto-themed painting: his buddy’s face overlooking the last place Corry had seen him alive. It was a guarantee, Corry said, that his friend’s memory would now be preserved beyond himself and those who knew him and would add some level of contribution to his future works.

“I’m finishing up a couple pre-paintings for a mural I’m doing inside a sober house in Port Orchard,” he said. “His memory; it will live on.”

A united front of artistry

Sierra Zeabin was like many young and aspiring artists trying to get herself onto the local art scene last year. Fresh out of college, she had yet to find an opening to create “local buzz” surrounding her work. Yet as she found the Port Orchard contest with the help of friends on Facebook, she would also come to discover the wonders of a local community of artists.

“I had done a couple of big pieces before, but that was the first time I was working on concrete. I really found a love for creating in this sort of way.”

The competition called for artists to work in an extroverted environment, the eyes of fellow painters, drivers of the road and passersby on foot watching Zeabin’s work be made right there in the open. She found that neither would be an issue. Those stuck in the gridlock raved over the art, Zeabin said. “You would hear somebody honking their horn and a shouted complement. ‘Oh my God! That looks so pretty!’”

As for her fellow artists, Zeabin recalled them banding together while demonstrating the humility and willingness to learn, teach and aid one another. Supplies, she said, would fly between the different blocks and shared paint created what she called masterpieces.

“A lot of people had different tips about how to do something. Everybody was talking, and if you ran out of something or you needed a little bit of something else, you had somebody willing to share around. It was very united, you know, even though we were supposed to be competing,” she said.

Zeabin made her mark, taking second place overall with a painting that is a reminder of everything the eyes of residents can take in on a clear day.

“I really want to showcase what we can see from Port Orchard. The water views, the plants we have around town, the view of Mount Rainier we get sometimes. It’s all part of the beauty of Port Orchard.”

Arianna Keith’s winning painting.

Arianna Keith’s winning painting.

Matt Corry’s tribute to a fallen friend.

Matt Corry’s tribute to a fallen friend.