‘Together eternally’: Artist paints mural honoring Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna on Costa Mesa market
In near-lifelike form, Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s faces appeared overnight on the side of El Toro Bravo market in Costa Mesa.
Orange County artist Tyke Witnes, a lifelong Lakers fan, said he had been planning since December to fill the wall at 739 W. 19th St. with a Lakers team portrait, including retired greats such as Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.
For the record:
11:35 a.m. Feb. 1, 2020This article originally misspelled Robyn Randle’s name as Robin Randall.
But when the news broke Sunday that Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter “Gigi” and seven other people from Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, Witnes — a 44-year-old father of two girls — knew he had to change his plans.
Artist paints mural of Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Costa Mesa
“When this happened, it hit home,” Witnes said.
He began drawing a design on Monday and sketched it on a computer. Then, before midnight on Wednesday, he took to the streets with dozens of bottles of spray paint. For seven hours, he said, he worked at the wall, leaving just as dawn broke to help his daughters get ready for school. He returned Thursday evening to finish painting, spending a total of about 12 hours on the mural, he said.
The artist has a connection to El Toro Bravo — his wife, Paloma, is the owner’s daughter. Paloma and her sister Danielle Bonilla run the store for their mother, Cora Bonilla, who supported the mural.
Danielle Bonilla said her brother-in-law reached out to the city to see what further permissions he would need, but he didn’t wait for an answer before getting to work.
By the time someone from the city got back to him, “they didn’t really say anything,” Bonilla said, “because they love it so much.”
The rigorous work contrasted with the confusion Witnes felt earlier in the week, he said. He knew he wanted to finish the mural by the time the Lakers played Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles — the team’s first game since Bryant’s death.
“[I’ve] just been out of sorts and I haven’t been able to focus on anything,” Witnes said.
He settled on using the Lakers’ font to spell out “Kobe” against the backdrop of a blue sky. The letter “O” is an orange basketball, and Gigi’s name is embedded in the letter “K.” Halos hover above the heads of the father and daughter in the shape of the number 8 (one of Bryant’s jersey numbers during his playing career) and an infinity sign.
“Him and his daughter, together eternally,” Witnes said.
A local mariachi band gathered at the foot of the mural Thursday night, serenading the artist as he painted the finishing touches beneath a black sky. A row of candles and flowers lined the sidewalk below the painting. Passersby stopped to admire the mural, take photos and reflect.
“Out of tragedy comes something good,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley wrote in a text message.
“Everybody I’ve run into over the last few days has somebody associated with a name up there. It’s either their child was on a team with one of the kids, somebody knew a parent,” said Robyn Randle, who passed by the mural Friday afternoon.
“This is so moving,” said another woman who paused to take in the sight. “I’ve got the chills.”
The mural is first and foremost “for the family, Kobe’s wife and his three children,” Witnes said. “It’s for the family of all the victims, locals and their friends. Third, it’s for the fans like me who feel like they’re part of Kobe or he’s a part of your family somehow. For all those people hurting.”
Witnes enlisted the help of his friend Brady Martinson, 36, of Revival Sign Painting to write in cursive lettering, “Dedicated to Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri,” referring to Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, and their three remaining children.
Another line reads, “In memory of Kobe, Gianna Bryant, John, Keri, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, RIP,” referring to all nine people who died in the crash in Calabasas.
“It’s really cool to ... see everybody come together,” Martinson said. “I think it came out great. I was amazed that he could put something together that quick.”
Witnes has been a devoted Bryant fan since he was a kid. He has watched — or caught the highlights of — every game Bryant played, he said. In college, Witnes said, he would take a portable television to where he was studying so he wouldn’t miss a game. In his car, he flipped on the radio. He attended a few games at the Forum, the Lakers’ former home.
“Kobe would, most of the time, save the day,” Witnes said. “It was amazing. There’s probably never going to be someone like him again.”
Daily Pilot staff photographer Don Leach and staff writer Hillary Davis contributed to this report.
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