Monthly Mural Wrap: A Dozen Tags for August, 2013

While Los Angeles muralists waited for the ten council votes needed to lift the mural ban (a final vote is scheduled for Wednesday, September 3), it gave Writing on the Wall time to ponder. During the drafting of the mural ordinance, there was a pause on the mural moratorium, as recently noted. Savvy artists and curators used the time to put up new works, seen on the streets downtown, and Van Nuys Boulevard's Mural Mile. Combine that with MCLA's restoration of art on the 101 Freeway, Los Angeles artists going international, and the national attention on the policy wrangling to give L.A. the chance to regain the title of "mural capital of the world," the last year has been a mini-golden era of outdoor art.

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Leading up to Labor Day weekend, Shepard Fairey installed a new work in Indian Alley (see above photo), a nickname recovered by the creatives in 118 Winston (which is next door to the former site of Crewest). It joins a collection of works in and around Werdin Place, off Winston. It began when Stephen Zeigler discovered that from 1974 to 1987, a rescue mission and rehabilitation refuge specifically serving homeless and alcoholic Native Americans was housed in his building. It was nicknamed "Indian Alley" at one time, says Zeigler.

In Fairey's installation, the headline is "We Are Still Here." That could apply to muralists too.

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The pride of the Valley, artist Frank Martinez, passed away August 17 at the age of 89. It can be said that the first wave of the Los Angeles urban mural movement owes a debt to his large-scale work. He was a resident of Pacoima, and a mentor to artists, reports theSan Fernando Valley Sun. He was also a prolific muralist, with his art scattered across the land he once defended as a medic with the United States Army. His work was self-authored as Chicano, but he also brought home memories from the World War II battlefields of Europe.

That shaped his life-long mission to make the world a more beautiful place, and his activism was reserved to raise awareness of the sacrifices made by Mexican-American servicemen. "I don't want society to ever, ever, forget what our contribution has been. The Hispanic G.I. Chicanos, Latinos, whatever you want to name them," said Martinez in an interview for "Hero And Genius: The Hidden Master, Frank Martinez," a yet to be completed documentary.

In the footage, Martinez also said: "And it's a shame that history hasn't been fit to record their heroic efforts. I'm saying it now so that people will understand how I feel." In a 1994 Los Angeles Times profile of the artist, he was dealing with works being tagged. "It's (graffiti) still going on. I think we failed. This new generation that has come in doesn't have the same love of country . . . hopefully, somebody can motivate them." Martinez will be laid to rest with full military honors at Riverside National Cemetery.

Screen shot of Frank Martinez from Lawrence Costales documentary Hero and Genius

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Levi Ponce is still changing his selected street and the coverage keeps coming, this time by the Los Angeles Times, who featured the young artist in August. During the volumes of articles on Ponce, there was an odd critique on his Facebook feed earlier this summer. Someone suggested the work wasn't all that great, and there were other painters in the city who could do just as good work, if not better. The point is, they are not doing it, and it would be hard to imagine someone else committing so much of his time to this stretch of road in the Valley. "Pacoima is a reference point," said Ponce in a video that follows a tour of Van Nuys Boulevard mural culture. There will be another Pacoima Mural Walking Tour on Saturday, October 19, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., according to The Museum of the San Fernando Valley Public Art Initiative. A case could be made that Pacoima has been a mural capital in the summer of 2013.

Pacoima Murals Walking Tour from Start Now Studios on Vimeo.

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Pacoima's neighbor, Panorama City, has a portfolio of murals by the late Alfredo Flores that are being restored by his grandchildren, Erika Tachet and Elijah Flores. The cousins are also planning a documentary about the artist and his works. Alfredo Flores restored the murals every ten years, but after he passed away in 2008, taggers started marking the murals more and more, reports Dennis McCarthy of LA Daily News.

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The Getty's Graffiti Black Book, officially known as "LA Liber Amicorum", is now online for the curious. They also posted conversations with the contributing artists. "To me, street art is a broad term that covers so many areas. Before, it was mainly graffiti, but now it seems to be used for anything even remotely related to graffiti. I think L.A. has its own distinct style or identity that is now recognized throughout the world," said Defer at The Getty Iris. "It's a hybrid of traditional placaso hand styles, Old English fonts, and traditional New York graffiti styles."

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When not helping with the player of "LA Liber Amicorum," Man One had a busy summer. One highlight was painting with his COI Crew in East London's Shoreditch / Brick Lane region, despite tours bringing in "street art photographer zombies" to stalk the walls.

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Eytan Rosenberg was the anonymous gas station operator whose garage at Beverly and La Brea was "graced with a Banksy mural." Rosenberg sold the business but took the Banksy with him. He now plans to put up the Banksey for auction. "In 2008, he was approached by a regular customer, Thierry Guetta, better known as the street artist Mr. Brainwash, who asked permission for a friend to paint on the walls" reported the NY Times Arts Beat. "Flower Girl" is the only mural on the December 5 auction block, part of Julien's Auctions "Street Art" collection. Other works to be auctioned off works by Risk, Indie 184 and MearOne. The fake Banksy by Strömberg will not be in the lot.

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A beachside California mural angle takes us to Laguna Riviera Hotel, where artist and surfer Roy Gonzalez will have a locals grace a wall and relate "to the history of Laguna Beach and its identity as an art colony," reports the Coastline Pilot.

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In another example of regional cultural tourism, the public art portfolio of Santa Clarita is presented by radio station KHTS AM 1220. The details are fuzzy, but there is a process to be recognized as art by the city, so the work tends to have a tepid civic narrative. One slipped thorough the cracks. An aerosol piece was thrown up for a backdrop for a location shoot. "The artist responsible is in the process of putting a permit through to make it a recognized piece of art by the city of Santa Clarita," reports the website. Which brings up the questions of why the TV or commercial shoot not have to be the ones to get a temporary permit, with an opt-in to stay up.

Spray Paint Mural in Santa Clarita

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For a future public art project for LA County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department, Sonia Romero had a call out for swimmers to build a library of reference material. "I was able to notify the public of the upcoming public art installation, ask them to be the models and inspiration for it, and reference my designs that already adorn Obregon from a previous 2008 commission," said Romero. Of the 25 people photographed by Rafael Cardenas, most recruits had come for the pool, not the shoot. The mural will be completed in 2014.

Rafael Cardenas photographs swimmers for Sonia Romero

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Old Town Temecula has the site. It just needs some public art, according to Press-Enterprise reporter Aaron Claverie. The city's Infrastructure Beautification Committee hopes to secure a family-friendly piece that can incorporate horse riding culture, with a water feature, for a designated public art site. Anyone up for a working carousel with kids armed with water pistols? The current portfolio of Temecula's public art can be seen on their website.

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Gumby has been on this ranch just off a highway in Norco, California. It's become part of the local public memory. Call it found public art.

Gumby on the ranch

Top: Indian Alley I Photo by Cindy Schwarzstein for CARTWHEEL

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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