Map out your tour of the streetside seascapes and portals to paradise

The shelter-in-place life might mean containment for many things, but imagination isn’t one of them. Creativity doesn’t need a gallery space.

Neighbors strolling the tree-lined Triple El neighborhood of Palo Alto have recently discovered al fresco art cropping up on house exteriors and across garage doors. Behind these pleasantly unexpected sights is international artist Martha Sakellariou and a fascinating dialogue on “home.”

After living in Greece, England and America, Sakellariou’s drive to capture the concept of home through art is an understandable one. The journey taught her to see home “not only as a practical experience, but as an emotionally complex space”… as a place of belonging.

“Home, the way I see it here in California (in this particular part where I live) has a very distinctive feeling to me,” she adds. “When I moved from London to Palo Alto, the suburban scenery was very striking to me because there were a lot of things I could imagine about how someone would experience their life. It’s very difficult to tell when you see a block of flats or big residential buildings.”

When the shelter-in-place happened, all of a sudden everything centered around home. For Sakellariou, this season has invoked new insights into how we interact with the domestic sphere. Read on for our overview of four of her murals, then schedule an outing to see them in person.

A garden visitor. (Image via Martha Sakellariou)

Living in a Bubble

Curious how it all began? The project has an organic kind of origin story. On her neighborhood walks a few months back, Sakellariou found herself lingering again and again at certain spots along her route, spots that triggered a deeper response within her. Attempting to capture that ephemeral feeling, she took pictures of the homes and later projected digital images over them, looking for the right match.

One of those spots was an idyllic Eichler with a lush garden. “I didn’t know who lived there, but [that house] gave me an amazing feeling of balance,” she explains. During the shelter-in-place, “everything was really unbalanced. It was full of distraction and pain, of broken realities and rituals, of something abandoned — everything was different — but this house provoked many feelings.”

One day, as she walked by the residence with a friend, she mentioned the idea of physically bringing images to these structures. It happened the friend knew the family living there and made the introduction. “I shouted my idea over the fence and she really liked it,” the artist recalls.

The resulting image, a woman blowing a balloon, is a still from a past video performance Sakellariou created. “I was examining ‘the bubble’ and how it’s a symbol of safety, but it’s also something that disconnects you from reality.” She adds, “safety is something that’s been a very strong word in this time of shelter-in-place.”

It reinforces the idea that each residence is its own escape. “It’s a little world, but it’s not the whole world,” she says. “So what’s happening in that little bubble is not necessarily what’s happening in the next house or the next neighborhood or in the next city or in another country.”

A new kind of beach house. (Image via Martha Sakellariou)

The Seascapes

Emboldened by her success, Sakellariou sought out new opportunities. Two Aegean seascapes soon followed. This particular sea is near and dear to her heart. Not only did she spend her childhood beside it, but she visits it nearly every summer. “For me, it’s the place that I feel the deepest sense of freedom,” she remarks.

The first of the seascapes continues the bubble motif with its circular appearance. Sakellariou also sees it as a kind of portal, allowing her to transport to the Aegean in her mind every time she views it. With travel restrictions, “I can’t go to the sea, but I can have a sea right across from my house,” she explains.

The second installation, ocean waves stretching the entirety of a garage door, was created for owners the artist knows personally. They’re big travelers and recently visited Sakellariou’s favorite Aegean Sea. When they expressed disappointment at having to stay in the states this summer, she instinctively knew this piece belonged with them. “When you find the right fit for something it feels like you have to do it,” she notes.

Step through to a room in Athens. (Image via Martha Sakellariou)

A Home within a Home

And why not go meta with a home within a home? This empty room exhibits an interesting transparency, a glimpse into an otherwise private world.

The featured image is one from a series of abandoned properties the artist photographed in Athens. Despite their historic and aesthetic value, many are snatched up by investors and converted into bland AirBNBs. “They all lose their domestic character very quickly and in a sort of traumatic way,” Sakellariou says. The image also reminded her of the apartment where she grew up. “I felt like I was transported to another time and another location and another emotional space.”

Sakellariou has received a number of interpretations on the piece. “I think that’s the most interesting part of the process,” she states. “What it means to me — and what it means to others.”

Martha Sakellariou alongside another one of her garage door murals. (Image via Martha Sakellariou)

Final Thoughts

Intriguingly, Sakellariou reveals that her initial intention for her new murals was as a quiet kind of project — really a conversation between her and her neighbors. Up until this point, “[my work] usually centered around private, indoor spaces and the relationships that happen within them,” she explains.

Nevertheless, the murals have quickly gained traction and a map has even been charted so visitors can locate each one. Sakellariou also recognizes that, with art galleries indefinitely closed, this could be her new means of engagement. “I think about public space a lot more now than I did before,” she concludes.

A neighborhood kid taking full advantage of the new backdrop. (Image via Martha Sakellariou)

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Johanna Harlow

Journalist with a fondness for micro-cultures and all things quirky.

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