Bob Senske's waterfront scenes have captured the feel of Belmont Shore and beyond for three decades.
Now those paintings, and more from all around Long Beach, will greet travelers as they arrive at the Long Beach Airport. Thanks to cutting-edge print technology, 21 mural-sized Senskes have been placed prominently all around the airport.
Senske is a Long Beach native, growing up in the Belmont Shore area. He was 14 in 1979 when he first turned his talent into a paycheck.
"It was all about real estate," Senske said. "Realtors wanted something to help sell homes… My guy was Ken Trossen — he would pay me $40 for a pen and ink drawing of a home.
"Then I went down and added the beach, and more than one house. It took off from there."
Senske did the art for a calendar for The Spencer Snyder Group. He continued to branch out, attending Cal Berkeley (where he began using color and acrylics).
It wasn't long before Senske could claim a growing reputation as the top maritime painter in Long Beach. His pictures of sailboats, beach scenes and more became ubiquitous in the area. Then, he said, Beverly O'Neill used one of his pictures for her greeting cards when she was mayor. The exposure cemented his reputation.
It also started to price his original paintings out of reach for many people. But, Senske said, he wanted to keep spreading his work into the world.
"Over the last 20 years, I've done a little bit of everything," he said. "I was selling greeting cards. The originals were getting too expensive, so I was doing prints. But in 2009, I lost my framers."
Senske had been working with two people who did framing out of their homes for both his originals and prints. But both decided during the Great Recession to get out of that business.
He said he discovered his next partner in Gardena. Instead of a framer, this was a printer — one who could expand small works into big prints without losing definition or detail. Senske declined to name the printer — he is so good he would be flooded with other artists, Senske said.
The discovery meant that instead of shrinking a 10"x10" original to a greeting card, Senske could now make larger prints. It opened a whole new market.
"I was able to go in the opposite direction," Senske said. "Now I can completely outfit a hotel. And it ultimately led to this," he added waving at the series of 10 paintings in the airport concourse between the two passenger terminals.
It wasn't quite that simple, though. Senske called airport administrator Dale Worsham with the idea of hanging some large prints of scenes around Long Beach. The airport already had some illustrations in large frames — primarily advertising — using a backlit process with something called tension fabric; Worsham and Juliette Mahoney connected Senske to that vendor, who worked out of Chicago.
The result was a mix of canvas and tension fabric murals. The largest is a cityscape 20 feet wide and 9 feet tall wrapping around a corner of the baggage claim. One of the most popular is a scene of Legends Sports Bar in Belmont Shore during a Super Bowl game, complete with an accurate depiction of a touchdown on the many television screens.
It's clear, though, that Senske's favorite is a series of 10 5-foot by 5-foot canvases on a long wall in the atrium between the passenger terminals. Subjects range from a sabot race to two children at the El Dorado Park duck pond to the Queen Mary.
"I'm just walking on air," Senske said. "The quality is incredible. And I just love this city
"I almost feel like an extension of the Convention & Visitors Bureau," he laughs. "I'm bringing a piece of Long Beach to greet travelers… I want to make the airport into a living room for the city."
Senske is in talks now with airport officials to add a kiosk selling small prints of his paintings, letting people take "a little bit of Long Beach" back home. That won't happen until the COVID-19 pandemic retreats.
Currently, the only outlets for Senske pictures are online at SenskeArt.com or at Steve Mangold's Shore Business Center at 5318 E. Second St. in Belmont Shore.