A few steps away from Cal Poly’s Scout Coffee location, four electrical boxes sit lonely on the tanbark for the campus community to see. Local Central Coast artist Oscar Pearson set out to beautify the campus by painting the utility boxes to represent the land upon which the university rests.
“It’s been nice to see the campus become more and more beautiful. Oscar clearly has talent — his artwork is very indicative of that and everything is very clear and bold,” Scout Coffee shift lead and business administration sophomore Anthony Dovidio said. “I think [the paintings] artistically represent his lens on the local vegetation.”
Originally from Grover Beach, Pearson studied drawing and painting at CSU Long Beach. He has worked on projects in Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and across the Five Cities region. Pearson is currently applying for Masters of Fine Arts programs on the East Coast to further his education. He also runs an arts coalition in Oceano called ‘The Place on PCH’ that doubles as an art shop and gallery.
After working for three years as an assistant to established ceramicist Darcy Badiali, Pearson chose to pursue his own career as an artist. He dabbled in nearly every medium of art — photography, mixed media, ceramics and sculpture – before discovering that he wanted painting to be his main focus.
“Inspiration comes and goes and the more I get involved in the art, the more inspired I am,” Pearson said. “It’s like digging a well, the deeper you dig the better clear water you get and it’s kind of like that.”
The summer of 2022, Pearson painted a mural titled ‘Generosity’ in Via Carta Plaza near Campus Market, which was his first experience working for the university. ‘Generosity’ was an ode to the agricultural bounty of the Central Coast.
“I came to that just thinking of it as a synonym of abundance — abundance is what we have here and that’s what the bounty is,” Pearson said. “We have to be generous to each other and I think it just keeps that wheel turning when people aren’t afraid to share.”
He sees the electrical boxes as an extension to ‘Generosity,’ this time focusing on wild, native plants rather than agriculture. The project for the utility boxes is to paint 16 native plants of California in an effort to show the natural beauty of the different regions of the state.
Pearson’s work goes beyond the 16 plants of California. He plans to organize the plants in four directions to represent the four main Californian terrestrial habitats — mountainous regions, coastal and dune habitat, creekside and arid chaparral, shrubbery with Mediterranean climate.
“It all has to do with orientation, because when I got the assignment with the boxes I had to think about the three-dimensionality of them because, instead of a mural on the wall, there’s all these sides and it’s more sculpturally in a way,” Pearson said.
The mountainous plants are Viola, Madrone, Pine and dodecatheon meadia, commonly called ‘shooting stars’. Plants common in the arid chaparral are Yucca, Chocolate Lily, Datura and Sage. Creekside plants are the Riparian, Poison Oak, Sycamore, Columbine and Cattails. In the coastal and dune habitat, the plants are Ceanothus, Dune Lupin, Dudleya and Coast Live Oak.
“These plants might not be used daily or they’re not all edible, but they’re all in this place that we share and this project is important because a campus is nothing without the land that it’s on,” Pearson said. “It’s a way of referencing the land and the aspects of it and it’s educational as far as identifying and reflecting the surrounding area.”
Pearson’s project is nearly completed and he plans to host artists in residence at ‘The Place on PCH’ over the summer. Also on his checklist is continuing to make paintings in his studio in Oceano.
“For me, a huge part of public art is about the context. You’re putting something in a set location with a history and with things going on in the past, present, and future — there’s so much attached to a space intrinsically so there’s a lot to think about,” Pearson said. “I see the surrounding area, I see people who are around and what they might respond to.”