A colorful portrait of Maricopa history now sits 60 feet in the air, overlooking the very desert and mountains it depicts.
Graffiti artist Danny Dyster of Laveen was hired to paint the water tower that rises above the northwest corner of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and White and Parker Road. The tower has been on the property since the Phillips family bought it in the 1970s.
Pam Howerton, daughter of owner Mike Phillips, said she saw Dyster’s work online and asked if he would be interested in painting the tower.
“That’s a graffiti artist’s dream, water towers and billboards, the adrenaline rush of going up there,” Dyster said.
Never mind his fear of heights. It was his first tower.
“I’ve never been that high, besides in an airplane,” he said.
Howerton saw a win-win opportunity as the family ponders leasing the property. “I thought it would be good for both of us,” she said. “He can display his beautiful art, and we can make our property look nicer.”
She sent him a history of Maricopa from the City website and told Dyster to create something from the information. The job was his first trip to Maricopa. He got busy researching.
“The migrant workers are what helped build it. And the train, of course, was a big part of it,” he said. “And the mountain in the background, the cactus and desert scene. They wanted to keep it simple.”
After a friend primed the tower with black paint, Dyster’s first try included cow skulls, which Pam felt was dark and morbid. He painted over that and tried again.
Dyster, 35, exclusively uses spray paint, preferring a high-end brand from Europe. Along with dealing with a boom lift for the first time, which once stopped functioning with him in midair, he found the constant wind a new challenge. And there was the spider that decided to wrap Dyster’s canvas in webwork.
The project took him about six days, mainly half-days. He said he probably could have finished it in a day if it were on the ground. He is now curious how long the paint will withstand the direct sunlight of the Sonoran Desert.
Spray paint art is his hobby; his full-time job to support his family is as a pharmacy tech at a small mental health hospital in Tempe. A graduate of Cesar Chavez High School, he is mainly self-taught, even briefly participating in the graffiti subculture of train tagging as a teenager.
He tried some graphic design at Phoenix College but did not have the patience for “stick figures.” He even worked as a tattoo artist for 10 years.
“At that time art wasn’t as big as it is now,” he said. “Thank God, it’s getting huge.”
Social media has been the lifeblood of his hobby. While completing the tower project, he posted photos and videos of the progress with the #Maricopa hashtag. That landed him two more projects in town to spray paint back yard walls.
Meanwhile, the Phillips family is debating what to do with the Maricopa property. It was purchased for a venture that never materialized and has been mostly untouched for decades. Howerton said the family sees the water tower as a landmark for their property. The family, she said, has been in business in Arizona for over 60 years, now primarily in transportation and warehousing.
Most recently it has been used as an equipment yard by Nesbitt Contracting, working the Arizona Department of Transportation project of widening Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. The lot is in a flood zone, but that could change.
“We just always liked it here. I loved the mountain,” Howerton said. “It’s just so free and peaceful and beautiful out here. I think my father just loved the beauty out here.”