Despite what prideful locals may think, the title of Mark Murphy's upcoming book-Heaven and Hell-isn't a comparison between San Diego and Murphy's old hometown of Cleveland.
"I thought of the theme a year ago, and, unfortunately, it's become very timely now," he says of the book, which features 110 original paintings by 58 artists from the United States, Mexico, Ireland and Canada.
As a light breeze blows under blue skies in San Diego, thousands of locals are on the other side of the earth watching Baghdad burn.
Heaven. And Hell. Respectively.
Murphy is the self-described "creator, conceptor [sic], publisher, designer and publicist" of Heaven and Hell who will hold a book-release party on Friday, April 11, in an old church-cum-dinner-theatre in Hillcrest known as The Abbey.
The book evolved from a successful run of calendars that Murphy had created each of the last six years. For the calendars, his firm-Murphy Designs, which he operated out of Cleveland for 10 years before moving to San Diego in 2001-came up with a theme and invited cutting-edge artists to create their own interpretations on the topic.
Past themes included "Superhero," "Passion," "Future" and "Outer Space." The 280-page Heaven and Hell is a combination of glossy and rough stock, along with other artistic accoutrements, such as a bible marker and a cover partially stitched in fabric. It will be peppered with 117 literary quotes compiled by Anne Telford, editor of San Francisco's revered design periodical, Communication Arts.
"The way the book was formatted was similar to the calendars-a visual idea that artists could interpret anyway they wanted. Since they're all leading in their field, I knew they'd turn out great," Murphy says.
The artists include the Clayton Brothers, two siblings who specialize in the irony of suburban decay, luck and fate. Douglas Fraser is a former San Diegan who now lives in Canada and works in neo-traditions he calls "brütal sign painting" and "comic book social realism." Also featured is Rafael Lopez, a San Diego painter whose brightly hued compositions play with the role of spirituality and passion as seen through a Latin perspective.
"The way that I chose artists was basically by invitation," Murphy explains. "There were some people that had done great nationally and had already built reputations. By using them, I could bring this little community to San Diego and they could introduce up-and-comers that had amazing talent that I hadn't discovered."
The Abbey is an apt architectural metaphor for Heaven and Hell . The former church was established in 1910 and is dressed in dark-stained wood, stained-glass windows and 50-foot cathedral ceilings. Murphy will set up the main ballroom as Hell. The upper balcony will be the place for angels.
He boasts that the event will be "a sensory celebration never seen before in the San Diego art arena." Being a D.I.Y. production-lacking the funds of, say, the recent Super Bowl parties-Murphy is counting on the top local artists in various fields to make good on his claim.
Local decoration queen Jessica Skeels and EZ2NV Productions will handle the creative and aesthetic vision of turning the Abbey into heaven and hell. The night will feature dance performances by Atash Maya and Tribal Dance, and an aerial performance by Brandy Wirtz, whose circus-like rope act once was a main attraction at "Freak Show," the now-defunct fetish night held at Rich's two years ago.
DJs will help create the musical equivalent of angels-in-hellfire, including gothic underground DJ Tom King and Serge, a DJ from Mexico. Thirty-two of the book's 58 featured artists will be present to talk about their art and sign copies. The night will culminate with a fashion show orchestrated by Octaviana Corsetry, Melodia Designs, Wyng d Lyon Designs and Freelance Hair and Make-up Studio.
"The idea behind the party is not only to show the physical artwork like a gallery, but to also include this church environment, on two levels, to show both heaven and hell and also include performances, dancing, interpretive dance, belly dance, live DJs..." Murphy rattles off.
"The party is just a juxtaposition of good and bad, heaven and hell, positive and negative. We'll be unifying all these subcultures under the same roof for one night for people who just love art and cultural happening and movements."
Being a relative newcomer to San Diego, Murphy sees the city as an intermediary between two thriving art scenes: Mexico and Los Angeles.
"San Diego is a really good starting ground," he says. "It's in this middle place that can unify some of the really progressive art that's happening in L.A. and the innovative stuff happening in Mexico. Art is something that's being birthed around the area. It's in the infancy stages. As a unified group, it's a little scattered.
"There are a lot of people in L.A. and San Francisco who want more stuff like this to go on in San Diego because they love the area. The idea of this book is to be an educational ground to say, "Hey, this could be us.'"