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Lost L.A. Murals Subject of New O.C. Exhibition

The ghosts of Los Angeles murals are visiting Orange County in an exhibition of works by Kent Twitchell and L.A. Fine Arts Squad's Terry Schoonhoven and Victor Henderson in "Lost Murals of L.A.," which opened Saturday at Cal State Fullerton's West Gallery.

Co-curated by Alice Emmons and Lauren Haisch, "Lost Murals of L.A." takes a deeper look at four major murals gone from the Los Angeles landscape: "The Freeway Lady" (1974) by Kent Twitchell, "St. Charles Painting" (1979) by Terry Schoonhoven, "Backyard" (1984) by Victor Henderson, and "Venice in the Snow" (1970) by the L.A. Fine Arts Squad.

"The seed of this came out of the concept of a lost history," said Emmons, "People with a life's work that has been discounted with no regard."

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The show also reveals that stories behind the murals engage the public as much as the art. The back story of how each work was lost under different circumstances -- neglect, apathy, or development -- becomes as important as the meaning of the piece itself. "People attending the exhibition were very interested in knowing more," said Emmons as she spoke on the growing interest in large-scale works, and the artists, as they fit in the current interest in murals. "I am surprised how many people are disappointed to see how people like Kent were not recognized. They were really the first street artists, but who respected other people's work and property. It is different dynamic."

The exhibition includes studies, photos, interviews and archived videos about the murals and their locations, which in the accompanying essay are described as "where today shadows and traces are all that is left."

Works explored in the exhibition includes Henderson's "Backyard," a commission that was installed in 1984 in the Van Nuys State Building. Conceptually, the mural "referenced the interior thought processes of the artist that remain shielded from the viewer. The mural included a psychological tension: Henderson explained that the painting was an act of mourning for him, for he was grieving the loss of a close friend who had died recently of a drug overdose," wrote Emmons. She also reasons that the work's "graffiti with its bold layers and gestural paint strokes that take on the appearance of lettering" was a precursor to today's street art in tone and public response.

Employees petitioned for the mural's removal and within two years, it was removed and sent away to storage at Cook's Crating in Los Angeles. It is now missing and despite Henderson's constant search to recover the work, there is a mystery to where it may be.

No one can refute Twitchell's 1974 tribute to his grandmother, known as "The Freeway Lady," the friendly matriarch visible during a commute into town, which even for me was a welcome to Los Angeles. She may be even considered a West Coast version of the Statue of Liberty, a greeter at the door of the city for art starving masses coming into Los Angeles from regional points East, yearning to be cultured. ("The Freeway Lady" is now planned to return to the city, this time on the campus of Los Angeles Valley College).

To Emmons, the goal of the exhibition is to think how art history can look at lost works that still have impact on regional history and culture. By looking at the conditions under which these works were lost, it becomes a commentary of Southern California's response to its own culture. Discarded as a temporary ethereal experience in a city where there is a perceived endless production of creative content, these masterworks are measured by how much are remembered by the public after they are gone.

This show has us wonder why we did not place more value on them when they were here.

"The Lost Murals of L.A", Cal State Fullerton's West Gallery, Visual Arts Complex, VA 113 I 800 North State College Boulevard, Fullerton, California. Through November 30, 2012.

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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