Building issues force loss of Sister City mural; replacement planned

Ichi-go ichi-e, the Japanese concept of one opportunity, one encounter, was once featured in a downtown mural, and while it no longer exists, the artist and the building may contradict that saying and get a second chance together.

The four-part mural depicting scenes of Japan in all four seasons was set to be completed later this year but had to be painted over last week as repairs were made to the exterior wall of Deluca’s Pizzeria, 833 Central Ave.

The two completed parts of the mural showed Japan in winter and in spring with the other two seasons to be finished this year.

“I wasn’t too glad at the beginning, as I was planning to add the two more seasons this year, and hence have it finished,” the artist, Pepe Gaka, said via electronic messaging. “That feeling didn’t last more than one minute. But then I realized there are more important things in life. I feel nowadays unfortunately too many people get offended for insignificant things, and we get constantly reminded that we should get angry or offended over practically everything.”

The Italian artist, whose real name is Giuseppe Percivati, has created pieces all over the world, including destinations across Europe, the United States and Japan. He has done street art since 2011 and has completed several works in Hot Springs, including the Black Broadway mural at 350 Malvern Ave. He first began the Hanamaki piece in 2018, returning in 2020 to paint the second installment.

The new owner of the building, Scott Hamby, says his priority was saving the historic downtown building, but he is willing to let Gaka return to create another mural.

Gaka said he plans to return this fall to create the new, and final, sister city mural.

This time, he hopes to try a different approach, using the entire wall space for a single scene. The piece would still show all four seasons in sequence in the same style as the original, but would take up the entire wall instead of four separated strips.

“That alley was just perfect for the Sister City mural,” he said. “But even if we had to make it somewhere else, it would be fine.”

The building dates back to before 1910 and suffered from the effects of time when Hamby bought it on March 17. He said the bricks in the wall were leaking and the stucco was seeping, allowing water to penetrate the brick and cause damage. The windows were rotting, as well.

His crew worked to regrout and waterproof the wall and replace the windows and the roofing for the three properties he purchased — 833, 831 and 828 Central Ave.

Before making the repairs, Hamby informed Mary Zunick, executive director of the Hot Springs Sister City program. He wanted to make sure she and Gaka knew the decision had to be made to preserve the building and not out of any other motive.

The mural was not affiliated with the Sister City Program, but sponsored by Zunick, as honorary consul.

“We are working together on it,” said Zunick. “And I have been in communication with Gaka, and we are talking about and making plans of how we can go forward with having a mural there in the future.”

“It’s always a shame when we lose a mural,” she said, adding that she sees the importance of the necessary work to the building and believes it may lead to an even better mural in the future.

Hamby said he and his wife were sorry the mural had to come down, but the structural integrity of the building was most important. He said he and his family will donate toward the replacement of the Hanamaki mural.

“We’re going to preserve these buildings for the next 100 years … for the next generation,” said Hamby. “And to be proud when you come into Hot Springs, it’s one of the first things you see, coming into downtown Hot Springs.”

Gaka said he remains undeterred and is excited to return to Hot Springs to replace his mural. This time, he knows the wall has been strengthened and his mural can stand for years to come.

“I understand that it was done not out of disrespect, but simply because the wall had to be fixed,” he said. “No issue from my side. Quite the opposite, I take it as an opportunity.”

An opportunity, he said “to make something even more beautiful.”


Pepe Gaka painted the mural on the left in 2018, and the mural on the right in 2020. They are the first two parts of a planned four part Sister City mural that depicts Hot Springs’ sister city, Hanamaki, Japan. – File photo by The Sentinel-Record

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