LOCAL artist Patricia Dubroof likes to paint very large pictures.
At a show last year, she slathered lyrical figures on huge sheets of brown paper.
But that wasn't big enough. She needed a wall.
"I've thought about doing wall murals since I was 15," says Dubroof, 24, who graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring.
Last fall, she found her version of the perfect canvas in brick--an ugly expanse of wall on the side of the Tokyo Restaurant at 1736 Connecticut Ave. The exposed part of the wall, which faces north, starts a floor and a half above the ground, because the adjoining building, where the Food for Thought restaurant is located, obscures the bottom part.
With the approval of both restaurants and the beneficence of area merchants, Dubroof set up scaffolding--provided by the New Playwrights Theatre--early last month on top of Food for Thought and began her project.
Now the wall bears three bulbous figures, arms outstretched. Going south on Connecticut Avenue, shortly before Florida Avenue, the figures come into view as if dropped from a cloud in the sky, loping over Connecticut Avenue storefronts. Dubroof's bobbing, swaying figures look as if they might somersault sideways onto Connecticut Avenue. The reds, dusty purples and blue of the mural offer a pleasant contrast to the dark brick and sidewalk gray of the Dupont Circle area.
It took Dubroof three weeks to paint the mural. Local filmmaker A.C. Warden, inspired by the way Dubroof talked about her art, filmed the process. "I got a great suntan out of this," Dubroof says. "As a studio artist you rarely get a tan." Eight students from the School Without Walls volunteered to help, and Dubroof's artist friend, Claire Naisbitt, provided technical pointers on painting a large wall.
The Connecticut Avenue Association contributed $50 for the mural, and Food for Thought contributed water, coffee and use of the telephones. Her parents donated the paintbrushes. Dubroof spent only $40 of her own to buy a nozzle for a water hose. She currently supports herself with a commission from a New Hampshire art collector. She's painting window shades in the collector's office, which must be pulled to block sunlight glare on his plexiglass-framed Christo. She also works part time at Suzanne's, a specialty food store across Connecticut Avenue from her mural.
Her paint was donated by the Fuller-O'Brien on P Street NW. "I walked in and said, 'I need some help,' " Dubroof recalls. "A man talked to me about paints, then I said, 'Well, all we need now is for you to donate the paint.' He looked at me and said, 'Okay--if I get to pick the colors.' I said, 'You're on.' "
The colors she got were white, gray, olive green, pink, red, blue and purple. "It happened to work out that he had everything we needed," she says.
After washing the wall "to get loose the smut," Dubroof tested paints "for drying and absorption. Brick is porous. You have to see how much you need to put on before you get the color. We were originally going to spray paint it. But the cars below would get it. So we decided to roll it on. It was messy, but that was okay."
The size of the wall--25 feet by 33 feet--didn't bother Dubroof, since she had done large works before. "The only difference is that it's a little high and a little strange," she says.
Though she'll never get paid for the mural, its presence in Dupont Circle has apparently paid off for some of her friends. "People are starting to explain how to get to places via the wall--like 'Take a left at the corner near Patricia's wall,' " she chuckles. "It's kind of a landmark."