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Behind the Artist: Covering 75’s Celeste Byers

The Golden Hill–based muralist and illustrator discusses the stylistic inspiration behind her recreation of our August 1949 cover

By SDM Staff

75 Year Anniversary – Celeste Byers from San Diego Magazine on Vimeo.

Each month in 2023, we’re asking a local artist to recreate one of our iconic covers from the past 75 years. For April, we tapped Golden Hill–based muralist and illustrator Celeste Byers to reimagine a 1949 cover. You can see her recreation here and learn more about her in the Q&A below:

Tell us how you found your distinct art style and how you honed your skills.

I came up with the style for my Mating Games comic (the style in which I re-created the San Diego Magazine cover) in 2017 after traveling for a mural gig and having a fling with this guy who ended up having a girlfriend. I wanted to make art about the experience but didn’t want anyone to know it was me, so Mating Games was born. I imagined my encounter with him playing out step-by-step in this simplified style of drawing that was completely different from the detailed organic work I usually made.

It’s meant to be funny and lighthearted ,and eventually I just let people know I was the one who made it. My murals and other illustration styles are more time-consuming and are more of a result of how I naturally draw and paint than any conscious decision to create a style. I like that I have all these different styles to express different aspects of myself.

What artists do you admire or look up to?

Within the past year I’ve really been admiring Sasha Gordon. She’s half-white and half-Asian, like me, but is only 24 years old and painting these amazing self-portraits about her identity. I’d highly recommend looking up her work and seeing it in person if you have a chance. I saw her Mood Ring painting last year at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in Los Angeles and it blew my mind how powerful it felt and how well it was executed. I kept coming back to it. The painting is 60 feet by 72 feet of her giant face with this rainbow opal texture that is really, indescribably incredible.

How do you think your art reflects the southern California lifestyle?

Living in San Diego has given me the opportunity to paint outside year round. In other parts of the country and world, there is mural season—but here in San Diego, unless it’s raining, it’s pretty much always mural season. I tend to reflect my surroundings in my art so when I’m here I end up painting San Diego’s local people and native wildlife, and even when I’m not here I’ve been so saturated in beachside living that it’s given me this preference for vibrant, sunny-day colors and I end up making work that’s within this very southern California palette that feels like my natural habitat.

What are some of the brands you have enjoyed working with the most and why?

The brands I’ve enjoyed working with most are the ones that were a part of my life to begin with, like Pacifico Beer (which, to this day, is one of my dad’s favorites and was therefore always in our house growing up), Sephora and REI (because I’d been going to both since high school), WarnerBros, NBA on TNT, LG, Amazon, American Express, and NBC … They are household names. Plus, Lyft, Facebook, and Airbnb because I use them all to this day, and the New York Times because it’s a great publication.

Beyond working with brands, I enjoy feeling like my art has had a greater impact on society, which happens when I work with organizations like Amplifier Foundation, [for whom I’ve made] a variety of artworks concerning social justice and environmental justice issues, most notably my We Are American poster that depicts a culturally diverse array of activists from our country’s history marching in unity under the American flag. Working with Amplifier gave me a platform to actively engage in our country’s contemporary history and to create a compelling image that was shared by hundreds, if not thousands, of people on social media—including actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, pop-star Camila Cabello, and the supermodel Iman—in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

Other notable organizations are PangeaSeed and their SeaWalls: Murals for Oceans project (which enabled me to paint murals in four countries to raise awareness about ocean conservation issues with some of the world’s best street artists), SODO Track and Forest for the Trees mural festivals in the Pacific Northwest, and Proyecto Panorama in Cancun, Mexico, where I painted a four-story high Native Mayan great-grandmother with Aaron Glasson on the apartment building where three generations of her family lived. It was also fulfilling to paint my three-story California Immigrants mural on Oxnard City Hall because at the unveiling I could tell that my work really meant something to the community I painted it for.

What do you have on the horizon?

I’m traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii next month to do an artist residency with Temple Children, where I’ll be collaborating with artists Emily Devers (Australia) and Kristie Fujiyama Kosmides (Hawaii) to paint a mural for Keakaha One Youth Development program, [which] helps Native Hawaiian … youth ages 8 through 18 in the Hilo community. After that I’ll be painting a mural for an apartment building in Hollywood, Los Angeles, and will be coming back to San Diego this summer to paint two new murals at the RaDD IQHD campus downtown. I’ll be painting an exterior mural for the new Starbucks in Oceanside in September. Within my personal painting practice, I’m working on a series of paintings about identity issues from an Asian-American female perspective, with hopes to expand my artistic practice from illustration and murals into gallery and museum spaces.

Where do you like to go to get away and relax?

Sometimes I don’t have to go far to relax. Just laying in the sun and limiting my time on social media can do wonders for making me feel like there’s more time in the world. I love hiking and spending time outside or anywhere with a big window or a view so I can at least admire the outside. The last relaxing vacation I went on was Tahoe last summer where I hung out at the lake, floated down the river, and biked through the lakeside forest paths. So perfect.

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