April 11, 2021

the faded color of the old “world capital of murals”



With an estimated 3,000 murals at the end of the last century, Los Angeles was the world leader in street muralism, but since then much has changed. Six out of ten of these large-scale works disappeared due to vandalism or, worse, forgetfulness.

In what was “world capital of murals”, a title that today shows Philadelphia, many artists see the fading of works of the old school that introduced, in the historic center of Los Angeles, the Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros to create in 1932 the mural “Tropical America”.

That was the beginning, but the mass production of large-format paintings arrived in Los Angeles as a result of the effervescence of political activism of the 60s and 70s of the last century.

Many of those works ruined with graffiti that became fashionable in the following decades disappear completely when Californian or local authorities order to “clean” the walls with “white paint”, laments the muralist Raúl González.

“Many of the artists are disillusioned,” says the painter Efe, who criticizes that the city of Los Angeles has “more money to imprison people” than for culture and the arts.

The muralist, whose creation extends to 200 murals in several states of the country, Canada, Mexico and El Salvador, shame because one of the many deteriorated works is his: “The Importance of Life”, created in 2000 in the east of The Angels.

Although with the support of the organization Mural Conservancy Los Angeles (MCLA) the artist restored this mural in 2013, three years later he had to recover it again when graffiti appeared, but it is a struggle almost impossible to win because he appeared again painted.

Given the slow bureaucratic process necessary to obtain public funds for this task and the absence of a “real program” of restoration, it is the painter himself who spends between $ 500 and $ 1,000 of his money to recover the glory of each of his works .

In total, he said, the city of Los Angeles has “one million dollars” for restoration, 10% of the figure available “to bleach walls and murals stained with graffiti.”

The neighborhoods look better “with restored murals,” he said, although the renovations are few.

González helped to restore in 2012, with funds from the MCLA, the iconic mural “LA Freeway Kids”, painted in 1984 by Glenna Ávila, and in 2017 “Pope of Broadway” was created, created by Eloy Torrez in 1985 in which he pays tribute to Mexican actor Anthony Quinn.

“The murals in the neighborhood show us a story that is often not taught in schools,” says José Huizar, councilor of Los Angeles, to Efe.

The Angelian politician has been active in the protection of these works and in 2013 supported a measure that ended with a “moratorium on murals”, an ordinance that since 2003 prohibited the creation of large works “for aesthetic concerns” of neighbors in Los Angeles.

Gonzalez’s “The Importance of Life” mural, which instructs about the pre-Columbian past, the Mexican revolution and “the future” of Latinos in space, is painted on the wall of the tire repair company “Tijuana.”

Rosa Ortiz, owner of the premises, tells Efe of what happens when the mural “looks good”: Young people take “selfies” and many “güeros” (Anglo-Saxons) come from Beverly Hills just to “take pictures with the mural “.

The key to rescuing the glory of the Angels murals could be in the hands of private enterprise.

The food chain “El Pollo Loco” announced that it will order the creation of new murals in its Los Angeles premises by 2020.

During the month of the Hispanic heritage of 2019 (celebrated every year between September and October), this famous grilled chicken business launched a “virtual resurrection” initiative of five murals that were erased in the angel city.

Passersby who passed through the five places where the murals were were able to scan a code with Snapchat and observe how the artwork looked before it was removed.

The murals “restored” digitally during Hispanic Heritage Month were “Our People are Cute and Powerful” (woman with mariachi hat), “SK8 Still Lives” (hip-hop prints) and “Hex BBOY” (which features a boy with a spray can of paint in hand), these three from the muralist Hex Rios.

The other two, “Migration” and “Zapata” are the work of Salvadoran artist Héctor Ponce.

The initiative to beautify Hispanic communities began with the first mural created by Ponce.

The artist painted a dancer in a Mexican folk costume on a wall of one of the first places in the roast chicken business.

Ponce tells Efe that from his missing mural “Migration,” composed of scenes of Latino workers in the US, he sent experts actually augmented photos for the “digital resurrection” project.

When passing through the wall where the mural was and scanning a code, the “virtual restoration” of the missing painting appeared on the screen of a cell phone.

The other mural “restored” and ephemeral in the virtual space of Ponce is a portrait of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Iván Mejía

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