Los Angeles is famous for its murals. The artwork covers the sides of buildings and bridges over busy roads. They add color and personality to the city.
Many people drive by a huge mural of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra every day as they go to or from work. The mural is easily seen from a major road near the city center.
Kent Twitchell created the mural in 1991. Twenty years earlier, he painted another mural on the side of a two-floor house.
“I decided to paint my favorite actor -- Steve McQueen. You know, I, I didn’t fancy myself to be some heavy-duty modernist artist. I just painted what felt good to me.”
Photographs of that Steve McQueen mural made Kent Twitchell famous.
His other works include a work in honor of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and paintings of America’s founding fathers. Some important murals, however, have been painted over or damaged.
“I was so naïve I thought I was living in Florence, and that people would just appreciate it and, and love it. But that didn’t turn out to be the case in many instances, and a lot of the, the great L.A. murals are gone now.”
Some historic art in Los Angeles has been repaired. Leslie Rainer is with the Getty Conservation Institute. She says experts carefully repaired a mural from 1932 by visiting Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
“He painted this very controversial image of a crucified central figure with an eagle looming above him, and some revolutionaries aiming their rifles at the eagle.”
She says the message of the painting is not clear. The eagle could represent the United States or Mexico. Each country has chosen the bird as its national symbol. But local leaders objected to the image, so workers painted over the Siqueiros mural. Yet the mural served to motivate and influence other artists over the past half century.
Artist Lydia Emily uses wall art to express a social message. In one mural, she tells the story of a victim of the sex trade. The artist says her work shows the face of the young woman named Jessica and a bird that represents freedom.
“I did an interview with Jessica where I learned her entire story -- how she was kidnapped, how she was sexually trafficked for her whole life, how she was rescued, how she became who she is today. And then I tried to paint the narrative.”
Lydia Emily also painted a mural in Skid Row, a neighborhood where many homeless people live. It shows an African woman of the Masai tribe and native birds of Kenya. The artist says the image represents the difficult life of the world’s indigenous, native, peoples.
Los Angeles officials once opposed murals and other street art. Now they are providing support, as long as the owner of the property gives permission. Officials recently eased rules about street murals in an effort to get more art and color in the city.