By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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PECATONICA — As he put the final touches on his latest mural Friday, Brett Whitacre turned to 11-year-old Ava Larson and asked a question you might not expect from a professional artist: Does that look like the right color?
The 44-year-old muralist’s question was sincere. He’s struggled with colorblindness since he was a child and often relies on others to identify the right choice. When he’s alone, he turns to a smartphone app to help him select the right can of spray paint.
Whitacre’s latest creation turned a blank white municipal building at Eighth and Main streets into a vibrant reflection of the village’s indigenous wildflowers, plants and birds. A massive whooping crane covers two corners of the northwest side of the building.
“I saw it as a simple design but made it more fun by using as many colors as I could,” Whitacre said. “I probably used 50 colors at least.”
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Whitacre has the most common type of colorblindness. He has a red and green deficiency, making it difficult to see those colors and hues associated with them. That made the final touches to Friday’s mural more difficult, and it gave him more reason to ask for Ava’s help because he was finishing different shades of green grass and flower stems.
Despite his colorblindness, or perhaps because of it, he’s always leaned toward lively, vivid colors that jump from the canvas. That holds true in his latest project, which is the twelfth and final mural of the CRE8IV: Transformational Art 2021 season.
“I did make some daring choices, I think, within the bird,” he said. “Instead of using gray for a shadow, I used purple and pink for shadows. It was just more interesting to me.”
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Photos: Final CRE8IV mural of 2021 completed in Pecatonica
His success as an artist despite being colorblind was the subject of the most recent Our City, Our Story feature, a series by videographer Pablo Korona that highlights local people making positive contributions to Rockford.
Whitacre first surprised Ava, an aspiring muralist herself, by asking her for help with colors. Then he offered her the chance to help finish the project, handing her the spray paint and giving her a few pointers on how to use it for the first time.
“It feels exciting that I got to help,” she said. “I like painting, although I haven’t spray-painted before so I was a little worried at first.”
Whitacre was patient as Ava made her first passes with the spray paint, and he showed her how he touches up errant strokes of paint.
“Everybody makes mistakes and you can always fix them,” Ava said Whitacre taught her. “I’ll think about this a lot because if I want to start doing this, I’ll think about what I did here and take experience from that.”
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Ava’s grandmother, Sandy Larson, was also an artist and had once painted a mural on the same building – although it had long since been gone before Whitacre began his project, said Angela Kay Larson, Ava’s aunt and part of the beautification committee Pecatonica Beautiful.
CRE8IV is a public art initiative of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s led to the creation of two dozen murals in and around Rockford. The Visitors Bureau plans to add more murals next year.
Whitacre’s mural, which took about eight days to complete, was made with feedback on the design by a group of Pecatonica residents. He also made a music-inspired mural at CD Source Records in Loves Park and two Orioles at 203 N. Church St. in downtown Rockford for the Visitors Bureau’s initiative.
The Pecatonica mural was paid for with the help of sponsorship from German American State Bank, the village of Pecatonica and Girl Scout Troop No. 268, which Ava participates in.
“With arts, sometimes it’s hard to get to small communities,” said Dan Obert, marketing and communications manager for the Visitors Bureau. “It’s cool that this is in a small community to inspire younger artists, to inspire artists that are already here in the community and make our small towns better places to live.”