You see it all at once. Gabby Petito’s crystal blue eyes, warm smile and relaxed gait — together with her chill vibe, whimsical air and angelic gaze.
Everything that made Petito sparkle and touch the world seems captured in a nearly complete wall mural on Montauk Highway in Blue Point.
“I was nervous that I’d struggle to capture her, but I did it,” said Tess Parker, 30, who has spent the better part of the last week painting the eight-foot, spot-on likeness of Petito, the 22-year-old Blue Point travel blogger whose tragic death has captured the attention of the nation and even the world. “I’m happy with it so far, and it’s getting a lot of good feedback from the community.
“As long as the Petito family is happy with this, then I am happy with this. If they got upset and said they didn’t like it, I’d immediately paint right over it. This is for them,” added Parker, whose eye-catching mural work is on the sides of walls across the South Shore and Brooklyn.
The young East Islip artist — who has doubled the last five years as a creative arts therapist in the mental health field — kicked off the project on Monday, Oct. 11. She was adding the final touches on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The mural is located just east of Nichols Road on the east-facing wall of the building in the Mazzei & Blair Plaza in Blue Point.
Driving west from Blue Point into Bayport, you can’t miss it. The mural depicts Petito smiling and looking up with a twinkle in her eyes, while standing in front of angel wings.
Many motorists can’t help but to pull over into the adjacent King Kullen parking lot for a closer look at the iconic image — and to shout out to Parker what “a fantastic” job she is doing.
“This is really a community project,” Parker said, speaking over traffic humming east and west on Montauk Highway. “I want to portray all of the love that Bayport-Blue Point has put forth for the Petito family — in her honor and to let the family know that they’re supported.”
Petito had been missing for several weeks before her body was found in a national forest in Wyoming. Her death was ruled a homicide, and earlier this month, it was announced that she died of strangulation.
A manhunt continues for her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, 23, who returned home Sept. 1 from a cross-country trip in Petito’s van without Petito. Laundrie went missing days before authorities found Petito on Sept. 19.
Petito’s father Joseph last Thursday thanked Parker on his Twitter account. Petito’s parents chose the Instagram photo that is the inspiration for the mural, Parker said.
By sunset Friday, a layman’s eyes saw a project that just needed a few finishing touches. But the artist knew better.
“I still have to paint the wings, in which I’m going to represent aspects from (Petito’s) artwork within the feathers,” she said. “And I still have to paint her pants, hands, sunflowers and some scenery and butterflies. So there’s still much to be done.”
And it would all wear on her throughout the weekend, with a family wedding keeping her from working on the mural.
“I won’t be able to have fun at (the) wedding because the entire time I will be thinking about how everyone is staring at this unfinished piece on the wall,” Parker, who brings along her pet dog Okami, a Shiba Inu, to every outdoor project, said on Friday. “So I’m just going to have this incredible anxiety.”
Parker additionally hopes that the mural helps “let victims of domestic violence know that there’s a nation full of people who support them, and there are options.”
For Parker, the project holds a different type of significance than she’s used to.
“I’m a creative arts therapist and I’m no stranger to grief work in my personal and professional life,” she said. “And I’ve painted murals all over Sayville, Oakdale, Bohemia and the Islips. So with that, I feel like the perfect person to take this project on.”
On the day last week that Parker focused on painting Petito’s face, she listened to The Beatles the entire day. Petito was a Beatles music lover, and Parker said she wanted to channel the energy of the connection between Petito and the songs.
“I just needed to blast The Beatles and get in the zone — and make it look like Gabby,” she said.
Parker used her smart phone to play The Beatles. She also utilized the phone to view a photo of Petito that she was using for inspiration as she painted her face.
“All of the sudden my phone battery was down to one-percent — and I wasn’t done with Gabby’s face,” she said. “I figured since I’ve had so much community support while doing this, I’m just going to post on Facebook that I need a portable charger and a printed out photo.”
Before a half-hour had passed, Parker was back up on her scaffold with both in hand. Someone had rushed to help her.
“I am really proud of it. It’s not that I’ve never done people portraits before, I’ve done quite a few, but they’re never photo realistic,” she said. “I have a very painterly approach. I’ll capture people, but in a different way. I was nervous that I’d struggle to capture her, but I did it.”