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Sea Lion Sparkles on Steps to Sand

Jun 10, 2024 09:40PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Charles "Chick" Bragg stands in front of his sea lion mural at the 34th Street stairs in Manhattan Beach.

"Have you seen the sea lion?"

That's the question that bikers and beachgoers are buzzing about as they pass by "Sun Bath," a new mural that now adorns the stairs at 34th Street from the Strand down to the beach in Manhattan Beach.

The mural, by acclaimed artist Charles "Chick" Bragg, is based on a photo he had taken of a sea lion on the beach in March 2015. Bragg's project is one of seven murals that the city commissioned back in September 2023.

The work on the sea lion has been going on for more than two months: Bragg started with cleaning and taping the stairs back in April, and he is continuing to perfect the painting.

"Everyone who sees it thinks it's done, but I keep seeing things that need work," says Bragg, who has become practically a fixture at 34th Street with his paintbrushes, paints, and bicycle. "I plan to be there every day, including the weekend, until I am satisfied with it."

Once the painting is done, the mural will get painted with two clear coats of UV protection, and then a layer of anti-graffiti coating.

But perhaps the most intriguing layer is the glitter that Bragg applied around the sea lion. In the right light, it shimmers. 

Bragg says that the viewing is best between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. when the sun is out and the shadows are not too pronounced. 

A Labor of Love

Bragg is a longtime Manhattan Beach-based artist who is well known nationally and internationally for his animal- and conservation-themed paintings. His work has been featured in art galleries, magazine covers, and jigsaw puzzles. Probably his widest distribution to date was a "Wonders of the Sea" commemorative stamp set released in 1994.

Despite his large body of work, this is his first mural - and he somehow picked one of the most difficult canvases on which to paint it. 

The difficulty in this project, Bragg explains, is that the painting is just on the vertical rise of the steps - not on the "walking" surface of the steps - so the design has to match up perfectly despite the gaps. 

Bragg, who wears knee pads while he is working, estimates that he has climbed up and down the stairs "tens of thousands of times" while trying to get perspective on what he has painted. "I've painted and re-painted every part at least 10 times," he says, adding that the sea lion's whiskers were the hardest part to line up.

(Bragg points out the sea lion's whiskers, which he says were the hardest part to line up.)

But he says that there's one thing that has made the job easier: Hearing all of the cheers and compliments from people passing by on the bike path or on their way to the beach. "The most wonderful thing is that people are coming by all day and saying, 'It's awesome!'" Bragg says. "It just makes me so happy - I get chills."

Sure enough, on a recent Sunday down at the Strand, cyclists were passing by or stopping to call out, "I love it!" and "Keep up the great work!"

One biker pulled up to announce, "I give this my 'seal' of approval!"... prompting groans from his friends and others who were in earshot.

Bragg's next public art installation will be a mural called "Flight," which will appear on the bike path side of the restroom building north of the Manhattan Beach Pier. Keeping in line with his animal themes, the mural depicts a flock of pelicans flying along the coast. 

Bragg, a lifelong surfer, says that the native birds and sea creatures - the "locals" - are what he feels most in tune with. "They're what I know - they're what I love."

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