Friday Funny: Tanks A Lot

An oil tank in El Segundo, CA has been transformed into a colorful, three-story tall surfing mural by artist John Van Hamersveld.

The old expression, “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” doesn’t even come close to describing the scale of a makeover that took place recently in El Segundo, CA. What once was a local eyesore—a huge oil storage tank—is now an impressively large, colorful work of art. City residents and visitors to the area can thank iconic California artist John Van Hamersveld, city officials, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP), and TRC for the giant mural of surf-inspired psychedelia.

El Segundo California
Working with El Segundo city officials, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP), and TRC, California artist John Van Hamersveld transformed an eyesore of an oil tank into a colorful work of art. (Photo: TRC)

The mural – 32 feet high and 510 feet long – surrounds a hulking LADWP storage tank. TRC, an engineering, environmental consulting, and construction-management services firm, commissioned Van Hamersveld to wrap the tank with his colorful artwork at the behest of the city of El Segundo. The mural was installed in 51 panels that encircle the top of the tank, which once held 7.3 million gallons of oil from the refinery next door.

“This project came to life after an El Segundo resident asked me if something could be done to improve the appearance of the tank,” said Mayor Drew Boyles. “This is a shining example of a resident voicing a concern and the city council working with stakeholders to develop a truly beautiful outcome. We would like to thank everyone involved for partnering on this ambitious project.”

El Segundo California
John Van Hamersveld poses next to his iconic poster for the movie
“The Endless Summer” in January 2009. (Photo: The Orange County Register)

Van Hamersveld, a 1959 graduate of El Segundo High School, is a famous pop artist who has done numerous murals around California – though none as large as this. But he’s best known for the poster he created for the seminal 1966 surf film “The Endless Summer” and for his work in the rock music world – an iconic Jimi Hendrix concert poster and album cover designs for the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.”, and the Grateful Dead’s “Skeletons From the Closet.”

The Grand Avenue mural features vibrant, Day-Glo waves and much of the classic iconography Van Hamersveld has created over the years, so it serves as something of a career retrospective for the 76–year-old artist.

“Yeah, that’s kind of the way I faced it,” he said. “The wave is the eternal world that goes through time and below that are these symbols that are my work over time, so putting that together is sort of an interesting collage.”

Van Hamersveld said he’s excited about the project’s gargantuan size – and the fact that thousands of air passengers flying out of Los Angeles International Airport will be able to see it while taking off each day. “The most interesting part of it is at various altitudes in El Segundo you can see it on the horizon, and in silhouette it’s almost 250 feet wide,” he said. “So it’s really an amazing gallery to be able to put that out.”

The installment was funded by the LADWP.

“As with any LADWP initiative, it is important to us to be a good neighbor to those around our projects,” said Marty Adams, LADWP Chief Operating Officer. “We are pleased to have partnered with the City of El Segundo to enhance the community by featuring John Van Hamersveld’s artwork on our tank. For as long as we have a use for this tank here, this will be home for this remarkable piece of art.”

TRC oversaw the prep work on the tank and the installation of the mural, which was printed on a mesh-like fabric so the wind can pass through it.

“This project is a lot more colorful than what we usually work on – literally and figuratively,” said Mark Robbins, acting president of TRC’s Environmental Sector. “We’re excited to have played a part in delivering something bold and unique that thousands of people will be able to appreciate on a daily basis.”