Sightseeing in Our Town - Part II

Sightseeing in Our Own Backyard - Part II,
also known as
The Amazing Painted Utility Boxes of San Diego.

San Francisco might have the famous Painted Ladies, Mexico City has the famous Diego Rivera murals, and painting horses is all the rage at fancy rehab hospitals (check out pg. 5 of this article), but none of that holds a candle to the Amazing Painted Utility Boxes of San Diego.

These works are simultaneously transcendent and utilitarian. They transform the typical utility box from an easily overlooked, gray, metal, boxy and forgettable obstacle into an everyman's gallery; a unique canvas upon which the people of our fair city can express their vision, their identity, and their creative prowess. These utility boxes cease to be just a big hunk of city-works stuff that is in your way while you are on your way somewhere else, they instead are a destination in and of themselves.

I apologize for the weird spacing. Keep scrolling down. You'll live. The last picture is of firemen, so it is well worth the extra effort.

This utility box is just fierce. Look at that leopard, so confident and aggressive in temperament. This painting would be perfectly at home on black velvet. Look again. . .it took a moment to even notice it is on a utility box, didn't it? This utility box was photographed in University Heights, near my new favourite restaurant, Chicken Pot Pie Shop (blog post about this starchy wonderland is upcoming).

What are those zebras doing? This utility box is in Hillcrest.

This cloud is crying rain tears. Maybe it is crying about the litterbugs who left trash in the gutter.

Scooby is about to be beamed up by the mothership. On the other side of this utility box, Daffy is riding a magic carpet, and Yosemite Sam is bar-b-q'ing over a wash tub. My instincts tell me that a bunch of stoners painted this utility box. Photographed in Ocean Beach. Yup, probably was a bunch of stoners.

This nature-scene-themed utility box shows a delicate and sandy environment full of tombstone cacti and Mt. Fuji-esqe mountains. While we are in a drought, and this is the desert, the pictures are more fanciful than they are a true and accurate representation of this area of the country's flora and fauna. I do like the bird that resembles an osprey, and I really love the jackrabbit eyeing the "warning high voltage inside" label. Photographed in Roseville.

The painted birds of paradise flowers really make this bus stop more scenic and pleasant. They are much easier to maintain than real flowers, too. You almost can't tell they are utility boxes and not real flowers at all! Majestic floral utility box photographed in Loma Portal.

This sunset-inspired utility box is lovely. I like the beach break with 2 lines of white water, and I really enjoy how two of the palm trunks merge and then abruptly end, and how one of the palm tops is magically suspended on no trunk at all. It is as though the brilliance of the sun, or the high-voltage utility box innards seared right through the tree. Photographed near Old Town.

Dr. Seuss lived out his final years in San Diego, so it is appropriate that his contribution is commemorated on this respectable canvas.

More Seussiness, just down the block from the other pic.

White Rabbit, and next utility box down the block is sporting a Cheshire Cat. Guess the neighborhood. Get it right, and I'll send you some cookies.

This one is Dr. Seuss meets TeleTubbies.

This whimsical little number has Humpty Dumpty sitting on, well, it doesn't at all look like a wall. It looks like a dirt pile. Humpty does look tense and his legs are all tangled up. There were no king's horses nor were there king's men. Maybe this is just some Dumpty cousin, and not Humpty at all. This utility box gets extra points for painting its protective poles to match the palm trees lining the block. You almost can't tell they are just drunk-driver deflecting bollards!

This beautiful utility box also incorporates its guard poles into the overall design. I enjoy how small the scuba diver is compared to everything else. Maybe he is just far away.

This one is my personal favourite. This huge and well-fed octopod is reading 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The building behind our octopod buddy is not Atlantis. It is our neighborhood library.

Bringing up the rear in our tour of glorious painted utility boxes is this doozey of a box outside the San Diego Fire Department Station 15. I love how on one side, the fire truck is coming right at you. On the other side, there is a swirling menace of flames and smoke. But, fear not, because on the last face of the utility box there is a strong firefighter, shown in dramatic silhouette, fighting a huge blaze, and, dare I say, winning against the flames because fire fighters are heroes and they save the day.

Feel free to start up a heady debate on the artistic merit and thematic resonance of the work, its multiple dimensions, how pop culture and fine art intersect in post-post-modernist contemporary art, the influence of primitivist stylings in an "anything goes" medium, or if you just like the pictures.


  1. I just like the fact that the phrase "this doozey of a box" was posted completely innuendo free.

  2. i think i even saw that zebra box in hillcrest a coupla months ago. love the public art! here's some of the Neighborhood Watch signs popping up around cherrywood, atx: