Artist turns ordinary bits of Auburn into eye-catchers

Cody Esp is one of many artists the who have brightened up downtown in recent years.

Cody Esp squats before a mural in the making, paintbrush in motion, oblivious it seems to the backfire of motorcycles and the honking of horns near the busy southwest corner of East Main Street and 2 Auburn Way North.

After a moment, Esp gets to her feet, and, peering from under the brim of her baseball cap, steps back to study the brushstrokes she’s just laid down on this busy Friday afternoon.

The thermometer is approaching 80, and Esp has tucked most of her auburn hair under that cap, save the thick mane at the back of her head, tumbling out and onto the shoulders of her coveralls.

A visitor approaches and, with an apology, Esp pokes out a hand streaked with green paint in greeting as she explains what this mural will be.

“It’s going to be a cheery landscape of Mt. Rainier and a field and deer,” Esp said. “We wanted to do something that worked with the current building’s architecture, and something that people who work in the office in the building wanted.”

Esp is one of many artists the Downtown Auburn Cooperative has set free on the downtown in recent years to brighten it with murals, turning ordinary bits of Auburnscape most people pass every day without a second thought into eye-catching, pause-worthy, exclamation-inducing works of art.

“We get it set up with the businesses,” said Cheryl Rakes, executive director of the DAC. “We send a copy to the city to make sure it meets standards for muralists, and the Business Improvement Area (BIA) has funded us.”

Like all BIAs in Washington state, Auburn’s is a funding mechanism for business district management and revitalization. Local stakeholders oversee and fund the maintenance, improvement, and promotion of the commercial district.

The process is competitive. Artists submit samples of their work and the BIA committee makes the selection. The owners of the property also get a say based on which design they would prefer.

“Every time I do a mural, it’s always a collaboration,” Esp said. “Some people have a clear vision of what they want, and other people will say, ‘I just want you to do something along these lines. I pretty much feel that if you’re an artist, you make a mix of everything that’s around you. That’s kind of your job.

“For this one, because it’s a very public spot, I wanted it to be lovely and cheerful. Like, one of Auburn’s best features is that it has an amazing view of Mt. Rainier from everywhere, and I really wanted to highlight that. It’s so stunning, and I love the mountains,” Esp said.

Esp said her murals celebrate women, nature, and, she said, “the joy that emerges from melancholy.”

Born into an artistically-minded family, Esp has been drawing and painting for as long as she can recall.

“Both my parents were a little bit oddball. My mom always hung paintings low so I could see them, and she’s always been interested in art. My dad loves to make music, and he writes children’s stories all of the time,” Esp said.

Esp went on to earn her degree in fine arts from Humboldt State University in California and has continued her education in painting and illustration through many respected artists.

“I love painting murals, and I’ve painted murals in my own home,” Esp said.

Esp’s joys encompass thrifting, decorating and fashion.

“Anything like that is my jam. I have always liked fashion. I am really, really thrilled that I get to be a woman, so I’m like, ‘whoo hoo, let’s see what I can put on!’ I love dressing up. It’s fun for my inner child, and it’s very stress relieving.”

If you ask the Edgewood artist, she’d probably tell you that descripting non-descript street corners, bathing otherwise bland building exteriors with beauty, making somethings of, well, not muches, is a darned good gig.

“…I think the more you say ‘yes’ to the Muses, the more they come to you,” Esp said. “What I create doesn’t always hit for me, but when it does, it’s the best feeling in the world.”