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Muralist puts love on the wall at UC Irvine

Artist Alex Cook stands in front of his newest "You Are Loved" mural in the Social Ecology I building at UC Irvine. The project is part of the UCI School of Social Ecology's efforts to promote compassion.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It’s important to Alex Cook that you know you are loved.

“To me, [love’s] the most serious thing,” the Boston-based artist said. “My understanding of the world is that all of the worst hurts — all of the most painful, scary things that happen — in one way or another find their foundation in a lack of love or in the feeling of a lack of love.

“Whether it be domestic violence or suicide or gangs or war, every one of the most horrible things comes down to someone or a whole community or a whole culture feeling a lack of their own worth.”

Therefore, it’s important to Cook that people passing by his colorful mural in the Social Ecology I building at UC Irvine know they are loved — and that they remember it.

The mural is the 68th painted as part of Cook’s ongoing “You Are Loved” project, which began about six years ago when he was working on a mural at a New Orleans school. Cook said the principal told him the school was working on ways to help students feel more safe on campus.

Children watch as artist Alex Cook and UC Irvine student Erin Jackson paint a "You Are Loved" mural this week in the Social Ecology I building at UCI. About 60 students, staff and community members helped Cook paint the mural over about four days.
Children watch as artist Alex Cook and UC Irvine student Erin Jackson paint a “You Are Loved” mural this week in the Social Ecology I building at UCI. About 60 students, staff and community members helped Cook paint the mural over about four days.
(Courtesy of Karen Tapia)

“I just had this idea that I hadn’t had before that was just a sort of question,” Cook said. “Why would we try to be subtle or beat around the bush about this very important thing that we’re trying to say?”

He said it felt clear to him that the way for an art piece to make children or anyone else feel safe is to get across that they are cared for and loved. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we just put those words on the wall?’” he said.

Cook’s work includes two “You Are Loved” murals painted in 2018 at Harbor View and Lincoln elementary schools in Corona del Mar.

New murals at two Newport Beach elementary schools give students a simple but powerful daily reminder: “You are loved.”

Nancy Guerra, dean of UCI’s School of Social Ecology, said the school invited Cook to paint the latest mural because of its message. The mural — measuring 32 feet wide and 8 feet tall over two walls — is part of the school’s Compassion Action Project, a partnership among the School of Social Ecology, the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation and the Living Peace Foundation.

“One of the School of Social Ecology’s goals is to promote compassion,” Guerra said. “There is so much unrest, anger and discord in the world today, and incorporating compassion into our daily lives helps us embrace our common humanity and contribute to the common good.”

Artist Alex Cook supervises as Ph.D. student Benji Kaveladze, foreground, and undergrad Jaclyn Gonzalez help paint Cook's "You Are Loved" mural in the Social Ecology I building at UC Irvine. The mural is part of the School of Social Ecology's Compassion Action Project.
(Courtesy of Karen Tapia)

The painting of the mural took place over about four days, ending Thursday.

Students and community members were invited to help paint it, as Cook outlined on the first day, “like a big coloring book.”

"[Painting] causes people to have to express themselves and put that fear behind them and join in with the group,” Cook said. “I think there’s something very psychologically powerful about that joining in, especially when it has to do with this message. Everyone’s sort of ... putting their shoulder to the wheel and saying ... ‘Yes, you are loved.’

“Everybody that puts their brush on the wall is agreeing with the message, and that feels very powerful that this community here — by the people who have participated — have said, ‘Yes, we agree. When you’re at UCI, you’re loved’ or ‘If you see this wall, you’re loved.’”

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