Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 11, Number 2 -- Fall, 2001




by Bill Lasarow


Contracts and new policies coming from two state agencies add up to a hoped for new lease on life for the many freeway murals hit by graffiti since late last year.

The California Arts Council (CAC) decision to provide a $30,000 contract and to begin to include ongoing maintenance as a portion of State public art funding, and not exclusively commission fees, affirms MCLA’s proposal that the State’s policy should be to maintain the public art that it commissions in order to protect public assets that in some cases prove to be of significant material and historical value. CAC Director Barry Hessenius has signaled his interest in establishing this precedent. Until now all such money went towards new commissions, with the responsibility and cost of maintenance contractually placed on the shoulders of the artists--with ownership retained by the public. The Council unanimously elected to contract the Mural Conservancy with the task of cleaning up and protecting as many of the freeway murals as possible.

The CAC decision to is just the first dollar commitment to what may become a statewide effort to revisit earlier commissioned public art. While the timing and extent of this is too early specify, the freeway mural project is regarded as a pilot that will point the way for similar projects elsewhere in the state.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation, or CalTrans has signaled important policy changes that will respect and protect murals’ integrity in the course of meeting the important priority of graffiti abatement. The mural paint-outs that occured earlier in the year technically resulted from CalTrans maintenance staff treating freeway wall space containing a mural as though it were empty: it was the graffiti that was being treated. According to their district maintenance supervisor the distinction between empty wall space and a mural is now, in essence, understood, and the agency is commiting funds towards the removal of graffiti as well as CalTrans’ institutional gray paint from murals. MCLA is working with them to put in place a regimen of graffiti abatement as it will apply to the murals.

The first stage of this new regimen is to clean each mural that has been affected by the recent rash of graffiti, and give each a protective coating. Conservators are evaluating each mural individually for the amount of damage and deterioration each has sustained. Some of them are in sufficiently good condition that they will be quickly cleaned and then given a fresh permanent and sacrificial coating, which at present is the best ongoing protection against graffiti.

Other murals will require a more rigorous application of conservation treatment in order to guarantee their preservation beyond a short time. This is where cost can begin to spiral, and the murals that fall into this group will be treated on a case-by-case basis. To speculate, some of these murals will be treatable within the current budget, but others will surely require special sponsorship due to the costs involved. Some may have to be classified as irretrivable. It is hoped at this point that at least half of the current number of freeway murals, which total close to forty, will be retrieved and protected in the short term.

Initiatives to attract sponsorship support to make it possible to restore even significantly damaged murals have been discussed with both CalTrans and the CAC, though it is too early to report that a specific program is in place. In some cases sponsors have stepped forward on their own initiative, as was the case when the L.A. Amateur Athletic Foundation elected to commission Frank Romero to repaint “Going to the Olympics.” Perhaps more significantly, however, the future possibilities for quality murals to be created in high traffic freeway locations will be greatly enhanced by policies that commit public dollars to protect valuable assets that are, after all, owned by the public.



David Alfaro Siqueiros’ “Portrait of Present-Day
Mexico” Goes to Santa Barbara

by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.


It was wonderful news to hear that David Alfaro Siqueiros' majestic mural, “Portrait of Present-Day Mexico,” was being donated to the Santa Barbara Art Museum after an unsuccessful attempt to sell it. Not only is it one of the most beautiful of all the murals created by the Mexican masters in California, but it is also in superb condition. The sad part of the story is that this priceless masterpiece was rarely seen, being hidden from the public view in a private residence in Pacific Palisades. Now thousands will be able to visit the breathtaking beauty of Siqueiros' fresco.

An elected official in the Executive Committee of the Communist Party in Mexico, the art editor of the radical publication, El Machete, and a revolutionary in union activities, Siqueiros was exiled from Mexico in 1932 and ended up in Los Angeles. Here he would execute three murals before being forced to leave the United States.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, “Portrait of Present-
Day Mexico”, shown here at its longtime site,
a private residence in Pacific Palisades, will
soon be on permanent view at the Santa Bar-
bara Museum of Art. Photo: Scott McClaine.


These murals represent a radical departure from his earlier paintings in Mexico, as he began to use murals to address political oppression. Another key aspect of the murals that he produced in our region was his interest in new technology. This would end up being a significant departure from the techniques used by traditional Mexican muralists.

The first of his murals was his most experimental. “Workers' Meeting,” long since destroyed, was painted at the Chouinard School of Art with a group of students called the Bloc of Mural Painters. The painting was quickly completed in two weeks by using a spray gun. This new technique allowed the artist to create a mural with a tremendously fresh and spontaneous feeling missed when using the traditional wet fresco technique, which is slow, ponderous, and limiting the artist's ability to improvise. This work led to his next commission at the Plaza Art Center.

The resulting mural, “Tropical America,” immediately became the most infamous in the Southland. The artist attacked American Imperialism in South and Central America by depicting a Mexican peasant crucified on a cross above which sits an Imperial Eagle representing the United States. The subject matter infuriated many local officials, and the mural was soon whitewashed and lost. Today, after a great deal of restoration under the auspices of the Getty Conservation Institute, a ghostly image rises from the wall that gives a tantalizing hint of the beauty that must have been.

The artist's papers had expired, and needing a place to hide from immigration officials Siqueiros was offered sanctuary by film director Dudley Murphy, who wanted a fresco on the wall overlooking his garden. Working with Fletcher Martin, Luis Arenal, and Rubin Kadish, he took almost three months to complete the seldom seen masterpiece. His painting is a bitter condemnation of the political realities of Mexico. The then President of Mexico, Plutarco Elias Calles, is depicted on the left as a bandit with a mask sitting on a pile of money. Also included is a representation of J. P. Morgan, representing U. S. Imperialism and American support for a corrupt government. The emotion of the work no doubt reflects his own bitter experiences with the Calles administration along with his ideological condemnation of the evils of Capitalism.

In the center of the mural are a monumental grouping of two women and a child, which represents the oppressed. On the right, adding further fire to this mural, is the portrait of a Red Guard armed with a rifle, looking menacingly out from the wall and offering protection to the people from tyrants. This soldier, with his red star on his hat, offers hope for a new day and contrasts sharply with the tired and broken image of the old regime helplessly guarding its bags of money. It was an optimistic image of a world to be set right by revolution. However, this was to be the last work he completed in Los Angeles. Siqueiros' attacks on United States policy in his public murals together with his leftist political pedigree led to his deportation in November, 1932.

The mural in its original setting is a stunning mix of the colors of Mexico, blended with monumental and heroic figures. Emerging dramatically out of a lush garden, “Portrait of Present-Day Mexico” produced an overwhelming impression. The garden setting created a tranquil environment that is shattered by Siqueiros' brutal imagery. It is a reality check set in one of the most exclusive residential areas of Los Angeles. Siqueiros must have loved the irony.

Now thanks to the generosity of the mural’s owners, you will be able to view one of this region’s masterpieces long hidden from public view. Start planning your trip to Santa Barbara in the Spring.





Kent Twitchell, “Six L.A. Artists”,
mural located in Torrance, 1978.

Excerpts from an article of August 28th reported by Jasmine Lee, staff writer for the Daily Breeze form the basis for this update.--Ed.

“Six L.A. Artists” is a 1978 work by Kent Twitchell on the state Employment Development Department building at 1220 Engracia Ave. facing Torrance Boulevard. Because the department's programs there have grown, the agency plans to move out and the state will either find another use for the property or sell it. The painting is not in bad shape for an artwork exposed to the elements for more than 20 years. But it could be destroyed if the state or a new owner choose to remodel the building.


In a preemptive move, the city of Torrance is asking the Employment Development Department for permission to clean, touch up and put a protective coat on the mural. City officials say that a property owner would probably not destroy the wall to remodel the building if the art is restored to its original state. Torrance City Council last week unanimously voted to move forward with efforts to restore the work and is looking for a community group to collect donations for the estimated $5,700 project. Fundraising is set to begin this month.

“Six L.A. Artists,” depicts a half-dozen of Twitchell's contemporaries, all fellow graduates of the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. The painted wall is a bright spot for those who drive or walk by, said Torrance resident Tom Tanza. “Whenever we go down there . . . there's this wonderful mural,” said Tanza, a Cultural Arts Commission member and a part of the city's art in public places committee.

Artist Twitchell had been concerned when months ago he learned that the Employment Development Department was considering adding windows to the wall he had painted. That plan has since been scuttled, but the future of the mural is still not certain. The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles is prepared to get involved in the restoration and maintenance efforts on the Torrance mural, said Robin Dunitz, vice president of the nonprofit group that preserves murals and educates people about public art. “I think the whole community is becoming more aware of the need to take into account the ongoing care of murals, not just the producing of them,” said Dunitz.

The city has contacted Nathan Zakheim, an internationally known mural conservator, to conduct the restoration work on Twitchell's mural. Using a new technique [see “Brig” article, this page--Ed.], he can “pretty much guarantee that the mural will not fall apart for 100, 200 years.” The challenge, he said, will be discovering the origins of a clear substance that coats the wall. No one--not the city, the state or the artist--knows who applied the glaze. He would like to figure out what the coating is so he can determine how best to treat it. Properly preserving the mural will ensure that the public will continue to enjoy the art. Says Zakheim, “The problem, of course, is that people don't protect what they have when they have it.”




by Art Mortimer with Bill Lasarow


For the third, and perhaps last time in our lifetime Art Mortimer’s “Brandelli’s Brig” mural in Venice has been restored. The building's owners, David and Nancy Paris did a major renovation and remodeling of the entire building, which has now been updated and modernized.
The Paris’ decided not only to keep the mural but to make it the centerpiece of their remodeling. So they have constructed a structure of beams and girders along the top and down the right side of the mural, are putting dramatic lighting on it, as well as colored paving in the parking lot in front of the mural--all things designed to enhance and feature the mural.


Art Mortimer on the scaffolding
working on "Brandelli's Brig", 2001.


As the mural, last restored in 1989, was getting ragged in places Mortimer and Nathan Zakheim were brought in to restore it. Zakheim rejuvenated the existing paint and re-attached the mural to the wall in places where it was loose or bubbling. Mortimer retouched the areas where paint had flaked off, been discolored by the elements, or where old paint had seeped through. Finally, Zakheim returned to spray the entire mural to make sure the retouched areas were firmly anchored to the old paint, and give a final protective coat to the entire surface.

According to Zakheim the newly consolidated paint surface should resist noticable deterioration for 100-200 years. The techniques used for the first time here will be addressed in a later “Mural Doctor” column. Zakheim has indicated his opinion that the “Brig” mural should serve as a model for long term mural restoration projects in the future.



All murals located within the City of Los Angeles, whether on public or private property, and whether City-sponsored or painted by independent artists or organizations, must obtain final approval from the Cultural Affairs Commission before they are executed.

The procedure for approval of murals is as follows: (1) Obtain an application from the Murals Coordinator at the City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs Department. Applications may be mailed or faxed by calling (213) 485-9570 to request a Mural Application. (2) Schedule an appointment to submit Mural Application and all necessary support documents to the Cultural Affairs Deptartment. (3) Once submitted murals are placed on the next Public Art Committee meeting agenda, attend Public Art Committee meeting and answer any questions about the project. (4) Attend Cultural Affairs Commission meeting and answer any questions about the project. Obtain conceptual and final approval from the Commission.

Joe Smoke
Public Art Coordinator, L.A. Cultural Affairs Department



compiled by Robin Dunitz

The following new murals were completed through October, 2001. If you want your public to know about your newest mural, please send the information, along with a picture if possible, to:
Robin Dunitz, PO Box 5483, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413.
Or you can call (818) 487-0416


Paul Botello, assisted by Adalberto Ortiz, Gerardo Herrera, Gustavo Sanchez, “The Wall That Speaks, Sings, and Shouts,” Ruben F. Salazar Park recreation center, Whittier Blvd. between Alma and Ditman, East Los Angeles, sponsored by Fonovisa and "Los Tigres del Norte", acrylic, approximately 25' x 50'.
According to the artist, "Los Tigres del Norte is a legendary Nortena band, which has won an American Grammy for that category of music. They write about the struggles and strength of the everyday man and woman, and share my philosophy of speaking out for those with no voice. They are credited with creating that style of music and have been active for the past 30 years. They gave a million dollars to UCLA towards the establishment of a Mexican music cultural center."

Leslie Nemour, “The World is Yours,” Kittredge Street School, 13619 Kittredge St. (near Woodman), Van Nuys, acrylic, sponsored by the Social and Public Art Resource Center.
Education and its importance is the theme. A child reading a book is the main figure. The artist is based in San Diego, where she has done other murals.


Paul Botello, assisted by

Adalberto Ortiz, Gerardo

Herrera, Gustavo Sanchez,

“The Wall That Speaks, Sings,

and Shouts” (detail), 2001.


Francois Bardol, “Desi-Lucy,” Prado Plaza, Culver City, oil, 10' x 12', sponsored by Gus Prado.
Portraits of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from the era of the television show. This is the same artist who did the Laurel and Hardy mural nearby.

José Antonio Aguirre, Eva Cristina Perez, Alfredo Calderon, “Dreams of Past, Present, Future,” East Los Angeles Library, 4801 Beverly Blvd., East L.A., ceramic tile, 9' x 9', sponsored by Self-Help Graphics.
Icons and symbols from Chicano history.

Michelle Obregon supervising students at Monroe High School (North Hills), “Windows of Time,” Reseda Blvd. (in railroad underpass) near Parthenia, Northridge, acrylic, 70' long, sponsored by the Community Police Advisory Board of the Devonshire Division.
History of Northridge in 2 panels across from each other.

Hector Ponce, “Beatles,” Wilton Place and Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, acrylic.
Giant portraits of John, Paul, George and Ringo.


Art Mortimer, “Long Beach
Safety,” Alamitos Ave. and
7th St., Long Beach, 2001.

Art Mortimer, “Long Beach Safety,” Alamitos Ave. and 7th St., Long Beach, sponsored by the City of Long Beach and the Long Beach Police Dept.
The theme is child safety.

Wyland, “Santa Monica Marine Life,” Pacific Park amusement center (swing ride), Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 700 square feet, airbrush.
California gray whale with baby swimming in the Pacific Ocean. This mural was previously located at the lifeguard headquarters at Will Rogers State Beach. It is part of the artist's Whaling Wall campaign, started in 1981, that has so far put 87 whale murals around the world.


David Legaspi III, “Rainbow Bridge” and others, Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, 30237 Morningview Drive, Malibu, sponsored by Edward Brown.
The legend of how the Chumash came to the mainland from the Channel Islands is one of the images portrayed on a series of historical panels throughout the school. The mural has been integrated into the curriculum of the 3rd grade for the study of community history.

Guillermo Avalos and Brooks Davis with 20 students, “Untitled,” Woodrow Wilson High School, Studio 501, Park Avenue and 7th Street, Long Beach.
Trompe l'oeil that shows students and teachers painting a mural.

David Legaspi III, “Rainbow
Bridge,” Juan Cabrillo Elemen-
tary School, 30237 Morning-
view Drive, Malibu, 2001.


Michael McNeilly, “9-11 2001,” Wilshire Blvd. and Gayley Avenue, Westwood, 120 feet high, airbrush on canvas.
Tribute to firefighter rescuers involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at New York City's World Trade Center. L.A. city officials have demanded the artist remove the mural for non-compliance with local ordinances, but he says he will only do so when he finds a skyscraper in New York to hang it on.

Michelle Obregon with students, “Kindergarden,” Serrania Ave. Elementary School, 5014 Serrania Ave., Woodland Hills, acrylic, 2 panels of 70' x 12' each.
The image of a pastoral scene with children and farm animals was inspired by the small gardens of the kindergarden classes located in front of the wall.





Mark Bowerman, "Running", Hollywood Freeway at the Western Ave. bus turnout.
East Los Streetscapers, "El Corrido de Boyle Heights", East L.A. at Soto St. and Brooklyn Ave.
Kent Twitchell, "Seventh Street Altarpiece: Jim Morphesis", Harbor Freeway, 7th St. underpass.
Kent Twitchell, "Seventh Street Altarpiece: Lita Albuquerque", Harbor Freeway, 7th St. underpass.

Chicana Center Artists, "Tree of Knowledge", East L.A. at Brooklyn and Hazard.
Frank Romero, "Going to the Olympics", Hollywood Freeway west of Alameda St. underpass.

Alonzo Davis, "Eye on '84", Harbor Freeway, at 3rd St. ramp.
Margaret Garcia, "Two Blue Whales", Venice at 12901 Venice Bl.

David Botello, "Read Between the Lines", East L.A. at Olympic Blvd. and Ford.
Kent Twitchell, "Strother Martin", East Hollywood at Kingsley Dr. and Fountain Ave.

Noa Bornstein, "Magritte in Los Angeles", Inglewood at Imperial Hwy and La Cienega Blvd.
Judith von Euer, "Flow Inversion", 100 N. Fremont, east facing outer wall of the Harbor Freeway at First St.
Annie Sperling, "Mural for Peace", Silverlake at Hyperion St. and Sunset Blvd.

Russell Carlton, "Heavenly Garden of Knowlege", Santa Monica Freeway west of the National Blvd. exit.
Thomas Suriya, "You Are the Star", downtown Hollywood on Wilcox, south of Hollywood Blvd.
John Wehrle, "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo", downtown L.A., on the Hollywood Freeway slot, at Spring St.

Rip Cronk, "Venice Reconstituted", Venice, 25 Windward Ave.
Mario Torero, Rocky, El Lton and Zade, "We Are Not a Minority", East L.A. at 3217 E. Olympic Blvd.
Wayne Healy, "Ghosts of the Barrio", Ramona Gardens, East L.A. at Building 2731-37 Lancaster Ave. near Murchison.
Rueben Brucelyn, “Eyes”, Glendale Blvd. at the Sunset Blvd. underpass, Echo Park.



If you are an artist who has created a public mural, or if you know and love a public mural that needs protection, the Mural Rescue Program provides important services for a select group of murals based on the following criteria:
• Aesthetic merit • Geographic and cultural diversity
• Feasibility • Public Access
To order an application call or write the Mural Conservancy:
(818) 487-0416, PO Box 5483, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413-5483

Or, print out a form directly from our Web site: http://www.lamurals.ors