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In Ruben Soto's Restored Echo Park Mural, the 'Eyes' Have It

A revived mural, through an act of friendship between artist and family, was completed last week, and adds to the growing Los Angeles portfolio of restored works.

Ruben Soto's Echo Park mural "Eyes" was another vintage Los Angeles mural marked by tagging, faded from the sun, and grimed by car exhaust. The artist was back at the wall restoring its color and switching out some of the images in his contribution to the city's mural scene.

The mural was unveiled the morning of May 5, and a final coat of graffiti protection was applied May 8, said Soto. "I have been with this mural since 1985, and since then it's been up three times," he said of the piece documented as first completed in 1991. "Once it got erased by the city by mistake."

Eyes mural I Photo by Ruben SotoThe latest panel in "Eyes" was painted as a memorial to Sage Stallone, the oldest son of Sasha Czack and actor Sylvester Stallone, who passed away in July 2012 and with whom artist had struck a friendship. 
Sage's image joins the other portraits, up to 20' x 9' segments, that sit on Glendale Boulevard under the Sunset Boulevard overpass in Echo Park.

Sage's image is positioned across from a portrait of his father, making up two of the nine faces, which includes the late Dick Clark, Soto's daughter, and muralist Kent Twitchell. "They are people who affected my life," said the artist, who is a single father and works as an electrician.

The panel with Dick Clark was completed just before the television personality passed away, and the image came directly from Clark via his publicist. "I was a fan of Dick Clark since I was a kid," said Soto.

Soto's daughter, Storm, had her portrait added to "Eyes" to mark her 16th birthday, he added.

When you see the mural's large-scale faces, it connects to freeways in another way. The sharp horizontal composition has the portraits look like they are peering at you from a rear view mirror, and the viewer is riding along in the back seat. The portraits also have the look of a close-up -- another reminder of city's cultural identity when you think of how capturing eyes on film is at the height of a moment.

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With the way Soto uses realism and application of scale, and the culture of celebrity, it's no surprise Kent Twitchell is listed as an influence. Twitchell's Los Angeles monuments to Steve McQueen and Strother Martin are a nod to the Los Angeles film industry, while Route 66 in San Bernardino is watched over by Will Rogers. In Philadelphia, PA , Twichell's portrait of Julius Erving's overlooks the city. (Levi Ponce, another muralist to note Twitchell's influence, has used Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin as a subject.)

Soto is also the artist of "I Know Who I Am," a mural featuring Mickey Rourke that was revived as a temporary installation on the 101 Freeway by Caltrans and Wells Fargo.

If one wanted to be assured that Soto's works are not just celebrity rubbernecking by an Echo Park local, his murals could be seen as taking a prompt from ideals of nationalism, in this case, civic, making new ideals with cross-cultural references. It connects to the most visible industry in the region -- mass media -- on a venue that gives us the best chance for a celebrity sighting -- the roads and freeways of Los Angeles.

That is not to free Soto from his skill in "the pitch." He is also a screenwriter and filmmaker. In 2009 he used another of his murals, which had been severely tagged, to write a website address for a film he co-produced. It made the self-promotion a rare case of an artist tagging his own work, wrote The Eastsider LA.

Still, this last set of eyes isn't about industry networking. The final panel has been buffed since 2006 and waiting for a subject. Sage was starting to work on a new project, said Soto, and suggested his image be used to mark his birthday. After they talked about it, Sage passed away, said Soto. "It's been a shock."

It was Sage's mom who funded the panel so that it could be completed by May 5, and Soto had to paint quickly. "It was the only phase that took two weeks," said Soto. "The others took three months."

Sage detail on Eye I Photo by Ruben Soto

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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