Brigit Harvey

Beneath the gray shadow of the Santa Monica Pier bridge lies not only a small aquarium but also a vivid mural depicting the aquatic life just beyond the surf in Santa Monica. A scene teeming with fish and swaying kelp, the mural brightens up the once ominous gray shadow over the aquarium.

In April 2007, local muralist David Legaspi, who died earlier this year, walked into the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to research a rock fish for his latest piece. Randi Parent, outreach manager at the aquarium, said Legaspi enjoyed the small aquarium and volunteered to liven up the dreary gray walls of the pier bridge with an underwater mural.

The mural took about two weeks to complete. Parent said the mural was funded by money Legaspi received from private commissioners. Brushes and paints were also donated from local fans and supporters. With no payment from the aquarium, Randi said Legaspi painted the mural out of his own desire to share the beauty of the ocean with the public.

“People are always taking pictures of (the mural), taking pictures with it. … It is a (landmark) of the aquarium,” Parent said.

The mural makes it seem as if the pier is submerged in the deep blues of the ocean. The kelp fish fade in and out within the kelp forest, swaying in an imagined current. A nurse shark hovers over the ocean bottom, and bright orange Garibaldi accentuate the deep blues of the unfathomable depths beyond the kelp forest.

Three dolphins are playing around the kelp, one of them humorously laughing at nothing. A sunfish glides near the surface of the water with its dorsal fin protruding into the surface and the rays of sunlight filter down and bring light to the many colorful fish playing in the kelp.

With closer examination, some of the fish and crustaceans do not have the talented complexity and depth that characterize the rest of the mural. It seems as if some of the creatures were painted by a less-talented hand.

“Legaspi was very inclusive,” Parent said. “He always tried to get me to paint with him. He’d say, “˜Randi you must paint something! Here, I will outline (a fish) and you can fill it in.’”

Legaspi was known for making his murals into a community project, Randi said. He encouraged everyone to become a part of the artwork. Randi said it was great to see little 3-year-olds with paintbrushes adding onto the mural.

Because the government planned on remodeling the pier bridge, Parent said Legaspi was encouraged not to expand his mural to the underside of the bridge. However, the remodel never took place and last spring, Legaspi and the aquarium revisited the idea of completing it. But before Legaspi could begin his work, he died on June 5.

Although Legaspi never had the chance to expand the mural, Parent said she does not consider it incomplete. She said the mural is not only an artistic representation of what the inside of the aquarium houses but is also a memorial to Legaspi’s generous contribution.

“(The mural) has brought our message (of habitat conservation) outside our doors in a way we previously could not do,” Parent said.