Muralist Patrick Marston taps the founding father of Venice for his mural inside Google headquarters

By Christina Campodonico
What’s going on inside Google headquarters in Venice?

If Patrick Marston’s new mural inside the Frank Gehry-designed “Binoculars Building” on Main Street is any indication, it really is the stuff of dreams.

When Google put out the call for local artists to come up with a mural design for a corridor just off the main lobby of their Venice office, Patrick Marston looked to the imagined reveries of Venice’s founding father, Abbot Kinney, for inspiration.

For the two-sides of the narrow hallway that contains his mural “Abbot’s Dream,” unveiled during a private party on Sept. 18, Marston said he sought to combine the “dreams of [Kinney’s] time with the dreams that Venice has become.”

Venice, of course, has long been the stuff of dreams. Kinney famously transformed the area’s marshes into canals fit for gondoliers and his boardwalk still attracts artists and dreamers of every stripe.

In Marston’s hands, Venice’s dreams are psychedelic — a colorful clash between beachy subcultures and the advent of turn-of-the-century technologies.

Pencil-drawn beachgoers from yesteryear celebrate Mardi Gras in papier-mâché masks across from slanted typewriter keys and a canal bridge cradled on an old rotary telephone.

In his research for the project, Marston found that these items were sort of like the smartphones and tablets of Kinney’s day, inventions that changed the way the real estate developer and his contemporaries lived and gave the era its optimistic zeitgeist.

It’s something that Marston sees in the Venice of today, where startups and tech companies are taking up residence alongside artists like himself.

“The place where I live had this crazy idea, inspired by potential,” says Marston, who’s lived in Venice for 15 years. “That’s Venice. Anything goes — a land of potentiality.”

Old meets new in even more fantastical ways on Google’s walls. A mustachioed (hipster?) whale with a Magritte-esque pipe slid under his lip rides a Victorian-style bicycle, a disembodied hand serves the famed Venice Beach Hostel on a dinner plate, and a fish flops on a soaring skateboard — all while Abbot Kinney snoozes in a gondola.

These weird and wacky designs are of pure fancy, but that’s exactly what Marston wanted.

“Joy and eye candy. Whimsical, playful and makes you breathe twice,” Marston says of his goals for the mural, which took about 270 hours over a span of seven weeks to create.

To meet his completion deadline, Marston, husband Michael Brunt and their dog spent many long nights in the building — not only painting but also sampling some of the tech company’s famous perks, such as hot chocolate machines and late-night movies.

Yet for something that screams for attention, the mural itself remains relatively hidden, so far revealed only to a small number of people outside the company.

The selection of Marston’s work seems just as mysterious. Brunt recalls getting a cryptic phone call from Google saying that Marston’s design was in consideration and then an email hours later announcing “Abbot’s Dream” as the winner.

The mystique of this art event makes you wonder what else is going on behind Google’s walls. Not on view to the public at this time, the mural — and Google’s art agenda — may just have to be left to the imagination for now.