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Monthly Mural Wrap: A Dozen Tags for September, 2013

Monumental is a common theme when you talk about murals, and September brought evidence of Los Angeles' extended role in large-scale works. It can be an abstract idea of what monumental means, as seen by the worlds most important abstract artists; a simple mural on a street corner that talks about monumental acts of courage from veterans; or monumental markers of Latino culture. Here are some of the September stories on murals, street art, and public art barreling into October, like a train filled with travel happy artists.

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The large-scale color abstractions of Sam Francis, in which white becomes as bold as blues, reds, and yellows, opened August 11 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The exhibition includes paintings on view to the public for the first time, and PMCA is the first museum to focus on Francis in over a decade. It's known how the California native contributed to larger studio murals, and how he served in the Air Force during World War II, suffered injuries in a plane crash while training as an Air Corps pilot, and how he began painting during a long convalescence.

In the movement of artists working in large scale, and titling works as murals, you can speculate that there is an additional abstraction of what is monumental. Are the bold moving colors of Sam Francis an idealized visual form of earth, seen from above while flying at high speeds? The curators at PMCA were passed along the question, and concurred that flying did affect Francis' way of looking at the world. Like Pollock, he painted while looking over his canvas or paper, an approach he used during throughout his career. But he saw with a higher perspective. The exhibition of paintings from five decades is the view of a former pilot who refused to be grounded.

Sam Francis' Sketch for Chase Manhattan Bank Mural I MOCA I  © Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Jackson Pollock's 1943 "Mural" is undergoing deep cleaning by the J. Paul Getty Museum's conservation lab, and the results are already making an impact. It's "fresh and kinetic" wrote Christopher Knight, L.A. Times Art Critic. At 8 feet tall and 20 feet wide, "Mural" also speaks of Pollock's connections to the Los Angeles art scene through his friend, painter Reuben Kadish. In the summer of 1931, while Pollock was in Los Angeles, Kadish led him to murals and workshops led by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Pollock himself assisted Regionalist muralist Thomas Hart Benton, before looking to the Mexican muralists for influences.

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Vincent Price Art Museum brings together artist John Valadez and Chicano art advocate/collector Cheech Marin on Saturday, October 12. The day will include an artist walkthrough of "Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez" at 2 p.m., and book signings by Valadez, and by Cheech for "Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection." Also at VPAM is Germs in "HOY SPACE: La Luz De Germs," recently profiled at Artbound,and "When You Sleep: A Survey of Shizu Saldamando." All exhibitions run until December 7.

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In Temecula, a one-year-old bronze statue depicting President Ronald Reagan was "torched" around September 18. A Riverside County supervisor is lobbying for a $10,000 reward for the capture of the perpetrators, and that's expected to be voted on October 8. Anyone with information can contact the Riverside County Fire Department's arson hotline at 800-633-2836.

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Ramiro Gomez at dedication of his murals at West Hollyhwood Park I Photo by Helen Ly / viewfromaloftTaking his work of unseen workers to West Hollywood Park was a special moment for Ramiro Gomez, who was joined by the families he worked for as a nanny. "I can't describe what it feels like to have art at the park where I still currently work. I'll sit there sometimes and think about everything I've been through. Sometimes when I'm babysitting at the park, I'll just glance over there and know its there. The efforts involved in creating this mural wont disappear, and that brings me a feeling of completion, a full circle moment for me."

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Artist Carlos Aguilar is an expert on Orange County's World War II veterans, now that his mural is completed. There is a strong connection made with the piece, which includes faces of actual servicemen in their youth. (Two passed away while the piece was underway). Titled "Among Heroes," it sits on the corner of Custer Street and Washington Avenue in Santa Ana's historic Logan Barrio. Also in the piece are the words "honor" and "valor," which are specific to Mexican-American veterans, reports the Orange County Register. "Both words are spelled the same in English and Spanish," Aguilar told the paper.

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Los Angeles International Airport had its first public arts festival, "Influx: Art at LAX," which runs through December 31. It opened with a walking tour of curated exhibitions, and the performance work "Everywhere Nowhere" by Sarah Elgart. Rather than trying to bring warmth to the maze and chaos that an airport brings, the installations were a different spectacle than the usual disorder an airport can bring. There is a self-guided tour, but many of the new works can only be seen if you are a ticked passenger. If you are flying out of LAX, you may want to see what your terminal may be offering. The ambitious project almost has the location saying, "We know you have a choice of public art sites, thank you for using LAX."

Photo: Helen Ly / viewfromaloft

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Before Los Angeles artist Doug Aitken's Station to Station reached its destination at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles last Thursday, enroute to its last stop in Oakland, it found magic in Barstow. Centering the public art happening at the Skyline Drive-in, the highlight was a concert with Beck. Aitken chose Barstow as a stop because it is the anti-destination, and that as a teenager he was, as reported by the NY Times, "bewitched by the venue, the Skylight Drive-In." The UFO by New York artist Peter Coffin also made a visit to Barstow, hovering over the desert venue. Deborah Vankin rode the rails for the Barstow to Los Angeles.

Station to Station in Bartsow I Photo: Steve Smith

STS - The Barstow Happening from Station to Station on Vimeo.

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Palm Springs rides graffiti art with Gallery 446's showcase of 10 urban artists from Coachella Valley and Los Angeles. "Palm Springs is like Disney World, there's no graffiti anywhere," said Gregory Siff to Palm Springs Life. Other artists include Mear One, and Alex "Defer" Kizu, who share the space with 13-year old Palm Springs artist Skyler Grey, and Ryan "Motel" Campbell, a transplant from L.A. "The 5th Element: The Golden Era of Street Art" is curated by Eddie Donaldson.

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At Artbound, Marco Vera visits "Graffiti Row," a two-mile stretch of desert that hosts a collection of works by outsider artists that are "covert, man-made rock formations depicting anything from names, plants, animals and memorials." The street art, or sand and rock art if you will, do not always carry commentary. Some appear to be natural items repurposed into shape and letters left behind to communicate with others who arrive to this desolate gallery.

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"Good intentions with poor execution can result in otherwise innocuous blank walls becoming obnoxious spectacles that viewers cannot escape," wrote Brian Ulaszewski for the Long Beach Post's Art & Culture website. "Murals are art, not just a graphic to be printed on a larger canvas." The urban designer and columnist is responding to the street art left behind from the first Wilmore 9 Festival, a film, music, and art fest in downtown Long Beach held over the summer. Ulaszewski considers the new pieces an alternative to the "artistically safe murals" seen around Long Beach. The content may be uncomfortable, but they are "More than murals, they are art."

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The Museum of Ventura County is showing how an exhibition of archives and source material for a restored mural can help understand the impact of art can have. "Last Exit: Tortilla Flats," a mural at the 101 Freeway and Figueroa Street, preserves the "legacy of a long-gone community that was nearly lost to memory," reports the Ventura Star. "This exhibit focuses on an element of critical Ventura history: the 101 coming through town as a freeway and how it impacted a neighborhood," said artistic director MB Hanrahan. Like sections of Boyle Heights, Tortilla Flats was a neighborhood split by progress. Earlier this summer, during the re-dedication of the mural, co-artist Moses Mora told the L.A. Times he wanted to restore the work for the remaining residents. "We wanted to do this in their lifetime." The exhibit opened September 14.


Top: John Valadez and Cheech Marin I Photo: Ed Fuentes

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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