Local artists sound off on mural

As a California artist prepares to start work on a mural for La Crosse, local artists are split on whether that’s a good thing for the city.

Fans call John Pugh an internationally-renowned artist, known for his murals. He’s based out of California, but the city of La Crosse has asked him to create a mural for downtown’s Pump House wall. Pugh would do work on this mural in his Lake Tahoe studio, and local artists and students would join him for an apprenticeship.

But some are left wondering why the city didn’t choose a La Crosse artist to create the mural, and at least one of those artists is calling it a slap in the face to be looked over.

Tommy Orrico has lived in La Crosse on and off since the 1970s.

“I’ve come and gone, but I keep coming back because I love this community,” he said of the city.

Orrico said the mural should be created locally.  

“$125,000 could have been spread between 10 local artists to make 10 local murals, and we would’ve put it back into the La Crosse economy.”


But like all art, the proposed mural is all about perspective – different people will see different things in a piece of work. Another local artist, Mike Martino, said Pugh’s work in La Crosse would be a benefit for the city.

Martino has applied to join Pugh as an apprentice while he works on the mural. La Crosse’s Art Board expects to name all four apprentices this week.

“He’s got 30 years as a mural artist and his techniques, his methods and the materials he uses are something I could learn about,” Martino said.

The city’s historical preservation committee still has to sign off on the project, and the state office will also have to approve. If both groups give the go-ahead, the mural would be unveiled in mid-June.

Martino’s hoping the project passes. He believes those working under Pugh would be able to bring new skills home to La Crosse and expand artwork in the city.

“This is a really good opportunity for artists in the community to learn from this.”

Both artists will likely not feel the same way about the finished product. Orrico says an out-of-towner won’t benefit the city in the way a local artist would, and Martino says no local artist could create a mural of this scale. Ultimately, it may just come down to perspective.