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First Legal Works Under Mural Ordinance will be Street Art by Risk with Shepard Fairey, and Ron English

L.A.'s first legal murals will be street art.

Renegades will make up the first batch of artists to be issued permits under the new mural ordinance. Shepard Fairey and Risk share a wall for a major piece in Skid Row, and Ron English will be painting in the Arts District. Both street art projects fall under the curatorship of Daniel Lahoda's LA Freewalls Project.

The Risk/Fairey collaboration will be at the Rossmore Hotel at Sixth and Ceres -- another LA Freewall piece for Skid Row Housing Trust. That project has the first permit and will be completed in a few weeks, said Lahoda.

The second permit is for a Ron English piece at Jesse and Imperial, and expected to be completed over the weekend.

The downtown neighborhoods are in District 14, which falls under the watch of José Huizar, the councilman who laid most of the groundwork of mural motions. He led the final push for policy changes to make murals legal on private property in the city limits, after being sequestered under sign ordinances since 2002.

The two permits evade the soft lobbying made here for a traditional piece in Highland Park, by a young artist, to be the first legal mural.

So be it. There still something symbolic to latch on to.

This shows how street art and graffiti became part of the larger mural tradition. Once the Risk/Fairey piece is completed, an aesthetic that was often illegal under any circumstances will welcome in the next generation of Los Angeles murals. There may even be a reception. "There's a big parking lot next door to the Rossmore," hints Lahoda, adding that District 14 recognizes the first work under the ordinance as "landmark." Risk begins painting this weekend. Fairey will jump in and work on his section in the upcoming weeks, as his schedule permits, said Lahoda, the city's unofficial "mural mayor."

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Risk and Fairey have worked together before, including a major piece at Art Basel, another project that shows how street art and graffiti are part of a mural movement beyond the city limits.

Some artists have been burdened with the business of straddling advocacy and creativity. "Personally I never wanted to be an outlaw. It's just that the things I wanted to do happened to be illegal," said English, who opens "Popagandistan" at Corey Helford Gallery this weekend. "I am so happy that the masses have rediscovered art. All we artists ever wanted was to liven up the world in a positive way."

During the long negotiation for a new ordinance, the mandate has been: how it will help Los Angeles restore its crown as mural capitol again. But can it? And if not, what should Los Angeles be the capitol of? Art? Tacos? Nothing? "Less than nothing? The capital of offenses?" mused English. "Manufactures of mythologies works for me."

The manufacturing of the Los Angeles mural mythology begins with an artist or property owner securing a permit -- a crowning by paper -- through the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). On October 17, the first official day of the mural ordinance being active, there was one inquiry, said Felicia Filer, Public Art Division Director for DCA. Now there are 19 applications on the books so far, 14 for "New Art Murals" and five for "Vintage Art Murals." From this first wave of inquiries, four "Vintage Art Murals" have been processed, plus the completion of two applications for new murals.

Photographer Birdman and Ron English, 2011 I Via Birdman's Neighborhood Watch

Up to half of the questions about mural permits fielded by DCA were from artists, said Flier. Property owners made up the other half of the initial inquiries. DCA staff has been prepared -- three internal meetings in the Public Art Division have updated staff about the permit process and to make sure all inquiries could be timely handled.

"We are glad to hear people are excited to create murals again and want to make sure everyone is aware of the process for registration," said Filer.

Undoubtedly, not every potential artist or property owner kept up with ordinance, so there will be guidance to move murals through a permit approval process. It starts with an e-mail welcoming artists to the "Mural Registration Process," and copies of Original Art Mural Ordinance Administrative Rules, plus information on how to register a Vintage Original Art Mural or Original Art Mural.

The paperwork is now part of "fighting for the right to paint," according to Risk, who considers it empowering that it allows his form of aesthetic to exist. Even the attention the mural ordinance has had in the last two years has helped curb authority. "Cops have learned to not bother us," he said, before suggesting that LAPD or L.A. County Sheriffs should also hold meetings to update staff on policy changes, especially toward forms of graffiti.

"Dealing with new administrative rules, we artists have to go further," added Risk, who with Lahoda, have held outreach meetings with the residents of the buildings they use as canvas -- a method that had already been used before being written into the mural ordinance. "I wanted it to reflect how we were handling our business. It's just a continuation of that," said Risk.

Yet, he notes how the permit isn't about content. "It's not an approval process," he said about the ordinance. "It's a registration process."

If there is approval needed, or at least an understanding, it's with the community, who will be intimate with the mural. Like other major muralists, Risk and Lahoda will hold meetings to show samples of solo work and collaborations to get people comfortable with the artists and their work. "People watch it develop, then become engaged with the process, and take ownership. It's like watching the magician behind the scene," said Lahoda.

At the community meeting, ideas were presented, including early sketches. Ideas are not presented to the public at large. "We don't want to lose a creative spontaneous element," said Risk.

That outreach also becomes another kind of advocacy and, in the tradition of mural commentary, may be considered a face-to-face propaganda that's on the side of street art.

"I hope so," said English. "Propaganda is extremely effective."

Top: Risk with Fairey in Miami via Birdman Photos.


About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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