• March 30, 2020

“Giant” art draws visitors in Marfa - Odessa American: Lifestyle

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“Giant” art draws visitors in Marfa

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  • Master Murals

    A mural painted by California based muralist John Cerney depicts scenes from the American western movie "Giant" on Highway 90. "Giant" stars James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. The film was James Dean's last film as a leading actor. John Cerney murals can be described as "giant cut-out art" and have been featured in numerous magazines, books and newspapers including National Geographic, Sunset Magazine, Reader's Digest and The New York Times.

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 3:55 pm

Before becoming a cultural hub for artists, before becoming a hotspot for traveling hipsters, Marfa was little more than a water stop for steam trains, until the 1950s, when it became a filming location for some western movies, including the epic “Giant.”

The last movie in James Dean’s short-lived career before his untimely death, “Giant” was a western epic capturing the drama of a Texas ranch family amidst the prospect of oil riches. “Giant” has had a lasting legacy ever since, and was added to the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” That legacy has carried on to Marfa, where visitors still come to see where the movie was filmed.

A new art piece has risen in Marfa in the last few months helping to cement the legacy of “Giant,” featuring several large pieces of pop art of James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and set pieces from the movie standing up on the side of the highway five miles west of Marfa on Wyatt Ranch, where some of the movie was filmed.

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A series of murals painted by California based muralist John Cerney depicts scenes from the American western movie "Giant" on Highway 90. "Giant" stars James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. The film was James Dean's last film as a leading actor. John Cerney murals can be described as "giant cut-out art" and have been featured in numerous magazines, books and newspapers including National Geographic, Sunset Magazine, Reader's Digest and The New York Times. Jacob Ford|Odessa American

This was the idea of California-based artist John Cerney, who reaches out to a city every year with an idea for art to give to donate to the community. In 2018, he decided to reach out to Marfa.

“This idea just happened to be perfect for Marfa, because of the filming of the movie “Giant” and their history with it,” Cerney said.

Cerney said he approached the Marfa Chamber of Commerce about the idea, and said his art fit right up their alley, so he packed up the various pieces of his exhibit into his van and drove from Salinas, Calif., to Marfa to set it up.

Originally a mural painter, Cerney said he began adding more elements, like three-dimensional art, to his work, which slowly transformed into just putting his art straight into the ground and getting rid of the walls altogether. This isn’t his first work with James Dean either, having made other artwork involving the actor some years ago earlier as well.

“I’ve always been a fan of his,” Cerney said. “Once I did it, a couple people would call me to pay me to do more.”

Dean has an appeal for many people, Cerney said, representing what many consider the golden age of Hollywood.

“James Dean dying early has kept him and made him a legend to this day,” Cerney said. “That still kind of hangs around and it’s a big thing, it was just a big grand splash of a movie.”

The benefit of art like this, Cerney said, is they become instant tourist attractions, and it has gotten recognition from various outlets, included Architectural Digest, and a PBS special on Marfa.

“The town appreciates it, it’s all over social media,” Cerney said. “So I knew that Marfa would be a big thing, and as small a town as it is, it’s a big town in the art world, so it instantly took its place among all that.”

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A welcome to Marfa sign off of Highway 90. Jacob Ford|Odessa American

Patrick Rivera, the assistant to the director of tourism in Marfa, said the art has definitely attracted people here, many of whom still come to ask where the movie was filmed and if the sets are still around.

“There’s a lot of things that bring people to Marfa, and Giant is definitely still one of them even though it was filmed in the ‘50s,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of people who are still fans of Giant.”

Not every local is thrilled with the new art though. Valerie Arber, an artist who helps run a print shop in Marfa, said she wasn’t pleased when she saw it standing outside of the town she’s lived in for the last 20 years.

“I just think it just is like the ‘Disneyfication’ of Marfa,” Arber said. “Find some kind of icon that people know about and then turn that into some sort of show. I don’t like that at all. There’s a lot of unique things happening here and I don’t see why we have to have these manifestations of something from the past.”

Arber said she thought ‘Giant’ was a very good film, but thought the artwork was ‘corny,’ but said it was OK that other people do like it.

“We’ve just become this backdrop for all things ‘Instagramabble’, and that seems to be driven into what’s happening everywhere,” Arber said. “This used to be more unique, this town.”