"The commission was something that was put out by the City of Huntington Beach, which is very assertively working to reconfigure the entire coastal front," said Billick. "A tremendous amount of its economy is based on surfing competitions."
Billick went on to explain that she was among approximately 50 artists from around the world who were invited to submit a proposal. That group was then narrowed down to four candidates. It was important to the city that the work could endure the salty sea environment. In the end, a final decision was made to select Billick's design, which would create large murals depicting beach themes using broken ceramic tile among other materials.
In total, the project covered more than 10,000 square feet of beach walls, walkways and steps. In addition to the panels, Billick created 16 life-sized surfboards cast out of terrazzo and steel in an area entitled "Surfin USA," which is located right next to the lifeguard facility. The images of the flags from the best surfing countries are cast into the surface.
The headquarters for the Junior Lifeguard training facility was named "Rescue Plaza," and features more than 2,000 feet of snack bar and retaining walls and risers covered with mosaics. Two additional areas are called "Beach Play" and "Dive-In."
The public art project was definitely a group effort. "Huntington Beach is very famous for its junior lifeguard program," said the artist. "I went down with a crew, and basically had 1,000 junior lifeguards make hand-made tiles of anything relevant - mermaids, sea creatures, shells. I then took them to the studio and fired them." Billick wanted to be sure to also credit her Studio Manager, Mark Rivera, for his dedication and hard work.
The tiles employed for the project came from a collection that had been compiled through the years, explained Billick. While some came from suppliers, others were recycled. "It was done in two phases," she said. "There are four principal pieces along the Pacific Coast Highway."
According to Billeck, it took about a year of preparation, including getting the junior lifeguards to produce their pieces. The pieces that they created were assembled on 3-by-5-foot boards, and they were joined together with broken mosaic tiles. Once the panel assembly was complete, they were applied to the concrete sea walls.
Additionally, Billick constructed a few creatures of her own, including a huge octopus mosaic, as well as a mermaid and a merman. The project also features 60 hand-made palm trees.
With so many tile pieces, it was extremely important to choose an adherent that would stand up to the beach conditions. Relying on past experience, Billick chose Kerabond/Keralastic from MAPEI for the job.
"The panels have to stand up to the environment conditions of the beach and to public usage, so Kerabond/Keralastic was the only choice for me," said the artist. "Rick Purvis, the company's representative, is extraordinary. He's really enthusiastic, and makes sure that I know what each product can do. They have never failed me."
Billick explained that the Keralastic adheres right on to the concrete surface. "Usually a white or gray [adhesive] was used, depending on the type of grout."
MAPEI's regional sales manager, Mike Granatowski, had visited the site several times during the installation. "It's exciting to see our construction materials put to such creative uses," he stated. "MAPEI is proud to be a lasting part of the legend of endless summer."
Once completed, city officials praised Billick for her work. They believe that the artist's design encompasses the spirit of Huntington Beach, and reflects the love of the ocean and all its activities.
"The project is clearly one of the examples of what makes California great," said Billick. "It's willing to put out in spaces public art that is truly permanent and durable."