Arts Palo Alto 101

Art all around us: “Under the Sun” on California Avenue

photo by Palo Alto Camera Club

An image of poppies in the shining sun…on California Avenue?

Shoppers on California Avenue in Palo Alto often rush by Sun Country Natural Foods on their way to the Farmers’ Market, but if they look at the side of the store, they will see a golden field of poppies shining in the sun that graces the drab alley like a dream, and giving the viewer a sense of expansive light and peace.

photo by Palo Alto Camera Club

“Under the Sun,” by Mohamed Soumah. Photo by Palo Alto Camera Club

This remarkable image is just one of the many pieces of public art that are all around us in Palo Alto, thanks to our robust public art program, which funds sculpture, murals, painting and more to enrich daily life with a glimpse of artistic vision and whimsy.

Bringing attention to cool public art in Palo Alto

As it’s easy to overlook these cool pieces, Palo Alto Pulse is working with the Palo Alto Public Art Commission to publish ‘up close and personal’ profiles of public art installations around town, including background about the artists, history and locations.

This week we look at the “Above the Sun” mural by Mohamed Soumah. This painting is located at Country Sun Natural Foods, 440 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto.

An African artist captures the essence of California sunshine

In 2004 Mohamed Soumah’s proposal for Under the Sun was chosen from over a pool of nine entries from local artists to grace the wall of Country Sun Natural Foods store at 440 S. California Ave.

Soumah is a native of Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea and this painting was his first commission in the United States. The mural is California-inspired and depicts and orange sun sending rays of light through clouds and onto a field of orange poppies. Behind the field of poppies are green,rolling hills scattered with trees.

butterfly detail on Under the Sun by Mohamed Soumah. Photo by Palo Alto Camera Club.

butterfly detail on Under the Sun by Mohamed Soumah. Photo by Palo Alto Camera Club.

Soumah was able to complete Under the Sun in about a month, a remarkably short time considering the detail he was able to achieve. Hidden among the poppies are insects and small animals such as butterflies and quails, as well as the occasional bluebonnet.

This mural was funded by the Palo Alto Public Art Commission and the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) with additional funding from Country Sun Natural Foods.

And don’t miss the sculptures with built-in solar!

It takes a minute to realize that the umbrellas in front of Sun Country Natural Foods are actually sculptures, rising up from the pavement to create shade and add artistic interest to the sidewalk. Called “Sunflowers,” these sculptures were made by Jeffery Reed and Jennifer Madden in 2003 and commissioned by the Palo Alto Public Art Commission, with funding by the City of Palo Alto, the City of Palo Alto Utilities, and the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA).

"Sunflowers" by Jeffrey Reid. Photo by Palo Alto Camera Club.

“Sunflowers” by Jeffrey Reid. Photo by Palo Alto Camera Club.

The next time you are on California Avenue, check it out these lovely art pieces, which evoke nature and open space, even in the midst of a busy shopping street.

Lisa Wang contributed text and research for this profile.

Detail on "Under the Sun." photo by Palo Alto Camera Club

Detail on “Under the Sun.” photo by Palo Alto Camera Club


About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.

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