Noah Kocina, summertime muralist
Montessori art teacher Noah Kocina winds down a project five years in the making
Tucked in a sliver of quickly receding shade, Noah Kocina sits cross-legged on a blue rolling board with a pair of headphones on and a paintbrush in his hand. That’s just how the art teacher spends his summer mornings: using acrylic house paint to make murals on the walls of the Montessori Children’s School in Carmichael. And he loves it.
He’s painted a large mural—about half the surface area of a buffalo—each summer for the last five years. In total, that comes out to roughly 2,300 square feet of artwork. The half-a-decade-long project started as a revamping of a decrepit mural of an American flag, and it’s defined a sizable chunk of Kocina’s time in Sacramento. SN&R met Kocina out in the field to get the scoop on the man behind the mural.
How long had you painted before this project?
I’ve been painting murals since I was in high school, I’m 43 now. I painted a bunch of murals in San Jose, that’s where I used to live. And then, when I moved up here about 14 years ago or something, I found a couple murals here and there, but nothing to this scale, just doing, y’know, rooms and peoples’ kitchens. …
I ended up living right behind the guy that owns Flaming Grill, so he got me to do the murals in there.
How do you see the art culture in Sacramento developing?
I love it. When I first moved here, I was really stoked because I heard there was this art community going on here … and I was really adamant about trying to get into the art scene here, and it felt like it wasn’t open to anybody that wasn’t already established.
Like, all Del Paso pretty much shut down, there were a bunch of art galleries down there when I first moved here—those are all gone. I went to a bunch of Second Saturdays, and it just seemed like there was this … I don’t know, it just seemed like it wasn’t open to new ideas.
How long have you been the art teacher at the school?
This is my third year.
Right on. So you started the mural project before you were the art teacher?
Yeah, I was just a regular classroom teacher, and because I sort of have this art bent to everything I do, they gave me my own art room here before I was even the art teacher.
They were just like just like, “You need a place to store all of your stuff,” so they gave me this art room, and I was doing the after-school classes for several years. And then, when the idea for having an actual art teacher came up, I was kind of first in line for that.
Has the project changed over five years, or have you changed at all?
When I was painting this one, that’s when I got my divorce, so that definitely sort of opened up my summer a lot. Changed quite a bit of just my view on life and everything.
Are all the designs pretty much true to what you submitted five years ago?
No, not at all. The original ones were really basic. … The American flag one was the first one I decided there should be someone in it … and since then, I just keep adding more and more people. And these are all people that I know, or teachers that work here or kids that I’ve taught.
There’s kind of this idea that there’s a curse on the murals, ’cause every time I paint you in the murals, you either quit or get fired.
So pretty much every teacher I’ve put in these murals—this teacher down here, all these other teachers on those ones—have pretty much all left right after I put them in the mural.
So what’s next, after this is done?
I really would like my summers to be filled with just painting, like it’s been so far … I tried applying to that Wide Open Walls thing, and I just didn’t make it for some reason, I don’t know why. I was hoping that would be my next thing.
Did you have a proposal for Wide Open Walls?
My idea was, I really want to paint a huge, gigantic, three-story version of my chihuahua. She sticks her tongue out a lot … and it’s just the funniest thing to me. I don’t know why, it just really puts me in a good mood.
It kind of lit a fire under my ass when I didn’t get accepted. I was like, “Woah! How could I not be accepted? This is what I do, I know how to do this really well. I would have kicked ass at this.