Beth Emmerich and the mural she is creating on Arch Street. Photo: Sylvia Rubin 

By Sylvia Rubin

On a short sleepy stretch of Arch Street, between Eunice and Spruce, a bold jungle-themed mural is materializing on the back wall of a crumbling concrete carport.

It’s the work of Beth Emmerich, a tattoo artist from San Diego, who is filling the space with a giant Ganesh, India’s elephant-headed god.

This is only Emmerich’s second mural ever (the first was a Day of the Dead skeleton in West Oakland). She created that artwork at the corner of Campbell and 24th Streets off Mandela Parkway last June.

A trained fine artist and a tattooist for more than a decade, Emmerich had never spray painted anything before, but she’s a complete convert now. “This is so much quicker than tattooing. I’m having so much fun, I’m really thinking about going in a mural direction with my art. Every time you pick up a different medium, your brain starts working in new ways.’’

Hossein Attar, a tour manager for reggae bands, commissioned the mural. Attar owns the big brown shingle on Eunice and Arch as well as its ugly carport/garage which had become an eyesore. “I’m honored to have Beth do this artwork and the neighbor’s response has been so positive,” he says.

Sarah Meyer, who lives across the street, agrees. “I think it’s amazing, so much better than that dirty wall, and my 3-year-old son now knows what a mural is.”

Attar and Emmerich connected on Facebook after he stumbled upon the Mandela mural a couple of weeks ago. “I was blown away when I saw it,” he said. Emmerich happened to be in town, agreed to stay and work for free in exchange for paint.

The wall of an ugly carport/garage is being transformed with the mural

The Ganesh grows more powerful each day as Emmerich fills in the oranges, purples and golds and expertly contours the ears and trunk. New colors and embellishments appear every few hours; the trunk was bare and now there are leaves; the tusk rings were ivory, and now they’re golden. A background of stenciled palm fronds adds a realistic touch to the almost surreal creature.

So far, Emmerich has been working alone, but she’ll get help this week from fellow members of Few and Far Women, a group of traveling tattoo and graffiti artists. “They’re going to do some lions, tigers, monkeys, whatever they want,’’ she said.

Attar stays out of it — a smart move, it seems. “The more you try and control an artist, the less you’ll get from them,’’ Emmerich says.

She’s committed to that wall, but sometimes the wall isn’t committed to her: The concrete is so old, “it just crumbles in my hands; it’s a real challenge to make this look good,’’ she says. With Queens of the Stone age rocking her iPod, she’s oblivious to the time. She puts on a miner’s cap as day turns into night.

“I’m so new at this,’’ she says. “I used to love brush work and I love tattooing, but as soon as I picked up a spray can, it was all over. This just explodes all over the wall. I feel like Alice looking into this giant world and I’m trying to find the biscuit to lead me through the door.’’

Sylvia Rubin is a freelance writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and lives in Berkeley.

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