Mayor Katrina Foley seemed awestruck as she looked up at a new mural being painted in Costa Mesa.
"I'm just overwhelmed," she said Thursday afternoon. "I really am."
Designed by world-renowned street artist Shepard Fairey — best known for his Obey art campaign and clothing line and for designing the "Hope" poster featuring former President Obama — the mural at 125 E. Baker St. is a towering work.
Its immense span, roughly 136 feet wide and reaching heights of up to 55 feet, is an eye-popping canvas of vibrant red, yellow, blue and black.
Fairey's mural is so vast that it's easily visible to drivers whipping along the nearby 55 Freeway.
"It was an incredible opportunity to have something so visual," Fairey said during an interview in front of the piece Thursday. "What I hope is people who enjoy it consider how art enriches the community and then, maybe, they support more projects like this."
Despite its massive size, the mural is painstakingly detailed. Symbols such as a dove and an angel holding a lotus flower are painted along with depictions of surf and skate culture.
The word "Welcome" is written above an image of a woman with a flower in her hair, and "Independence" is etched above a stand of palm trees.
In designing the mural, Fairey took care to craft something that would catch the eye of drivers zooming by but not be overly complex, he said.
"I have a sense of what's going to work from a distance," he said. "I feel like there's plenty of detail to enjoy, but it's not so fussy, not so busy."
The privately funded mural is part of Baker Block — an under-construction 240-unit apartment complex at the intersection of Baker and Pullman streets.
The artwork dovetails with the "independent-minded living experience" that Baker Block hopes to offer its residents, said Andrew Nelson of Red Oak Investments, an urban redevelopment company that is working on the project with CityView, an investment management and development firm.
"There's a lot of 'watered down' out there," Nelson said Thursday. "This is expressive and spicy."
Fairey started work on the mural Monday and said his goal is to wrap it up this week.
"Art in public space is exciting because it keeps people from having to go to a gallery or a museum," he said. "Maybe it reels some people into being excited about art and into art, which is great."
On Thursday, he met with Foley and Parks and Recreation Commission Vice Chairwoman Liz McNabb to discuss the mural and his work in general.
"It's a huge honor and privilege for our city to be able to showcase the work of this premier artist," Foley said.
Though clearly a fan of the mural, Foley did persuade Fairey to make one notable addition.
Costa Mesa's official motto, "City of the Arts," is emblazoned near the top, she pointed out proudly.
"We're trying, everywhere we can, to really showcase the arts," she said.
Fairey said he was happy to include the slogan.
"I think it's really exciting that Costa Mesa is the City of the Arts and wants that to be their identity," he said. "For being such an important thing, the arts are underemphasized. I'm humbled that I get to put this here, and I'm proud of Costa Mesa for being trailblazers."
Baker Block's goal is to open in November, according to Nelson.
For more information about the complex or the mural, visit livebakerblock.com.