L.A. is better known as the unofficial Mural Capital of the World. It's home to more public displays of street art than any place else. These murals – splashed across skyscrapers, hidden beneath freeway underpasses, or elevated on the ceilings above – are as much a part of our cultural identity as our shared love of In-N-Out.
Murals are nothing new in terms of the cultural landscape. In existence during the caveman and cavewoman days, they've been evolving ever since. L.A. murals got their start in 1912 when a Scandinavian immigrant named Einar Petersen produced several downtown. Sadly, none of them remain, but a bevy of muralists have taken it upon themselves to continue the tradition.
Chicano and Chicana muralists, in particular, helped L.A. achieve its mural greatness. Their murals speak for an entire community, past, present and future. Issues of poverty, race, discrimination, colonialism, politics, sex – you name it, they've covered it in layers of brilliant colors and shapes.
A perfect example is Mario Torero's We Are Not a Minority (1978) located at 3217 East Olympic Boulevard in East L.A. In it, Uncle Sam's iconic finger pointing is transformed; here, we have the revolutionary Che Guevara to remind us all that no one should be left behind.
“We are sending this message to the world, and especially to the System, a racist system continuing to try to belittle us and calling us minorities,” Torero explains in the book Painting the Towns by Robin J. Dunitz and James Prigoff. Murals get their politically potent and socially conscious messages across in a way that few other mediums can.
After taking a look around, you might also come to appreciate graffiti art, a.k.a. aerosol art or tagging, like never before. Some graffiti pieces are certainly not your run of the mill freeway sign tag. These newest additions to Los Angeles' mural tradition reflect the city's youth and African American cultures in bold strokes, innovative calligraphy and one-of-a-kind designs.
Yet unlike, say, a Picasso painting, a mural is never safe from the nearest can of white paint. Most recently, Kent Twitchell's popular Ed Ruscha Monument was unexpectedly painted over in June. The towering six-story figure of artist Ed Ruscha, located near the intersection of South Hill Street and Olympic Boulevard, was one of the city's most famous murals; Twitchell plans to sue.
Vandalism also threatens to destroy public art. Twitchell had restored another mural of his in 2000, but stopped when it was vandalized in the process.
While murals may suddenly disappear or change overnight, that's no excuse not to seek them out while you can. There isn't a neighborhood in the Southland that doesn't have at least one mural to call its own.
You can get involved, too. Check out the Social and Public Art Resource Center ( www.sparcmurals.org ) to learn more. Looking for a particular mural or muralist? Visit the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles at www.lamurals.org . Soon, you'll discover just how much of what it is to be an Angeleno is already painted on the wall.
A FEW OF NOTE:
• Mujer de Este de Los Angeles (1989) by George Yepes at 418 S. Pecan St., in Boyle Heights – Our very own Lady of the Eastside.
• A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy (1995) by Eliseo Art Arambulo Silva at 1660 Beverly Blvd., in Echo Park – A history of the Filipino-American experience.
• Aerosolics (1989) by Dante, Risk and Slick on the Comedy Store at 8433 Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood – Aerosol art at its most ambitious; a tribute to graffiti artist SK8.
• Hollywood Jazz (1945-1972) (1990) by Richard Wyatt on the Capitol Records Building at 1750 N. Vine St., in Hollywood – You'll be sure to see some familiar faces.
• Dolores Del Río (1990) by Alfred de Batuc at 6529 Hollywood Blvd., in Hollywood – One of the silver screen's first Latina stars.
• What Happens to a Dream Deferred? (1993) by students under the direction of artists/teachers Marco Elliott and Joann Carrabbio at Venice High School, 13000 Venice Blvd., in Venice – Cubist influences and iconic imagery address issues of justice, class struggles, ignorance and prejudice.
• Great Wall of Los Angeles (1976-83) by Judith Baca project director with 40 artists and 200 youth on Coldwater Canyon Ave. (between Burbank Blvd. & Oxnard St.), in Van Nuys – The name is not at all misleading.
• Planet Ocean (Whaling Wall XXXIII) (1992) by Wyland at the Long Beach Arena (Shoreline Dr. & Linden Ave.), in Long Beach – You know those whales your mom loved in the '80s and '90s? See them again, recreated in 7,000 gallons of paint.