With street art becoming a dominate movement in the local mural scene, a new work that uses the Chicano craft of bringing buried community stories to the earth and walls -- and keeping the a neighborhood relevant -- is a rare gem.
Sometimes the best way to keep that Los Angeles mural tradition alive is to rely on the established masters. That is the case with East Los Streetscapers, David Botello and Wayne Healey, who just completed "The Poets Wall," a new work dedicated October 28 in celebration of the 125th anniversary of Whittier College.
The 11.5 feet by 48 feet mural by Botello and Healey, with assistance from Benjamin Botello, Wenceslao Quiroz, and Jose Gutierrez, had its content driven by students taking the course "Politics, History and the Arts in Latin America," led by Professor Deborah Norden and Associate Professor Jose Orozcol.
"We stirred up an appreciation for all that goes into making a piece of public art," said Botello, admiring how some student's enthusiasm made a diligence of attending for once a week meetings during finals and over the summer.
During those meetings, students brought in researched images reflecting events and regional culture, ranging from the college's namesake, John Greenleaf Whittier, alumnus Martin Ortiz, to the retired mascot Friday the Squirrel. Landscapes of campus landmarks, and the view of downtown Los Angeles from Turner Hall, balance the piece. Objects such as a Richard Nixon campaign pin and Whittier College seal mix in with students participating in campus ceremonies, signs pointing to countries around the world.
"Our design elements were similar to before, but this time we made use of the computer and Photoshop in a more stylistic way, by changing colors as we crossed over compositional lines. We also made use of many complementary softer colors and the school's colors: Purple and Gold." Said Botello. "The far right side featured an altar for Dia de los Muertos, which was a suggestion from both Latino and Anglo students. It was a hard sell to include any 'skeleton' images from the Regents viewpoint. But they did like the altar idea, when we came up with it."
It's is not the voice of the underserved, but shows how an underused process can still guide a contemporary rich and complex visual image to mark a site's history.
"East Los Streetscapers has always sought to connect themes of past history and their evolution into today's society," Healy said to me. "Our very first mural as a team is a classic example. Painted during the U.S. Bicentennial of 1976, ELS presented a West Coast version of a largely East Coast commemoration. We reached back to the Olmecas and presented a chronological parade of imagery up to the Chicano Mural movimiento. That's a 'bicentennial' of 3000 years." That particular mural, "Chicano Time Trip," dated 1977, is still located at the corner of North Broadway and Daly Street in Lincoln Heights.
"'Poets' Wall' isn't about David or me," said Healy before the mural was dedicated. "We presented ideas and held the brush, but it was the students who initiated this project. I want students to look at 'Poets' Wall' as though it's their very own looking glass. I want them to lay claim to it."
Taking content driven by the community and unearthing missing history is becoming a lost craft. The purpose of those early murals was to get local stories out to the public. "It could not be more up to date since the principal iconography came from the students themselves," said Healy. "I like to think that that shows we're still making progress."
Botello and Healy will be featured in "Two Generations," an exhibit honoring them and their work. It opens November 10, 2012, with an artists reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The show features seven new pieces by Botello, plus works from Wenceslao Quiroz and Fabian Debora. Fremont Gallery is at 812 Fremont in Pasadena.
"The Poet's Wall" (Botello and Healy) I Photo © Ian Bradshaw (MCLA) Courtesy of David Botello