Photo study of Joe Gatto by Kent Twitchell

Joseph Gatto: A Monumental Life 'Reporting for Service'

A list isn't enough this year.

Any such year-end post could have led with stories about the mural ordinance being passed, lifting a decade long ban on the city's cultural calling card. It could detail the murals by rebellious artists who simply painted on despite the ban, or even chat up Banksy's stencil on a gas station wall from 2008 that fetched $209,000 at auction.

But it was the news of the death of Joseph Gatto, the gifted arts educator slain November 13, that made for poignant agony in the year that resolved art being banned from the walls of the city.

One of the embattled muralists was Kent Twitchell, whose reinterpretation of murals inside Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles was dedicated days before the news of Gatto was reported. Titled "We the People, Out of Many, One," Gatto, a veteran, was selected as a model and placed in the mural, a subtle way Twitchell denotes regional cultural figures in his work.

On August 19, in the days leading up to Gatto's turn to be photographed for the piece, he wrote on Twitchell's Facebook page: "Kent . . . I will suit up with my Italian jacket and my tattered Levis. Sp4 Joseph Gatto reporting for duty sir!"

In one of three tableauxs commissioned by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Gatto sits in a bomber jacket, peering back at the viewer. It quickly became a memorial.

Now you can read the gaze as a teacher peering back to the artists he influenced as a co-founder of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in 1985.

At the two-hour service held November 25, daughter Marianna Gatto, sister of Assemblyman Mike Gatto, said "He found beauty and wonderment in everything," wrote the L.A. Times.

It leads me to a rare pitch to the Los Angeles murals arts collective. May the students who were under his guardianship, and the artists who were colleagues, collaborate on a large-scale mixed media altar honoring Gatto during Dios De Los Muertos 2014.

Let the right street corner be overrun with murals that use his lessons. Add installations of paper-mache candles 6-feet-high to note a charismatic life that lit all forms of Los Angeles art. And let it linger as a monument until December 22, marking the 1934 birth date of Joseph Anthony "Joe" Gatto. It becomes a pronouncement of a life.

Kent Twitchell painting 'We the People, Out of Many, One' panel with image of Joe Gatto.


LAPD reports the investigation is "going" and released a statement asking for the public's help in locating hand-crafted jewelry by Gatto. Police asked anyone with "any pieces or information about them" to contact detectives at (213) 486-6890.

The family requests donations in the memory of Gatto be sent to:


  • The Historic Italian Hall Foundation, 125 Paseo De La Plaza, Suite 400, Los Angeles, 90012.

  • The Los Angeles Community Garden Council, 4470 W. Sunset Blvd. #381, Los Angeles, 90027.

  • The Tuition Magician, Attn: Joe Gatto Arts Scholarship, 4470 W. Sunset Blvd #378, Los Angeles, 90027.


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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