Mural Artists Upset Over Removal of Paintings

About a month ago, the Friends of the Los Angeles River received permits to hold a two-day mural painting event where the river meets the Arroyo Seco. The purpose was to beautify hundreds of feet of drab concrete banks. But the project's turned sour. Event organizers say an L.A. County supervisor called a meeting afterward to criticize the murals' content and demand their removal. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The September 28th event attracted about 200 artists from L.A., San Diego, and the Bay Area. Each one used spray paint to create graffiti-style murals on 12-foot sections of concrete.

The day's sponsors knew that many of these artists had painted on other walls without permission. That's beside the point, they said, because they intended this event to help residents reconsider the concrete walls as a social sculpture instead of a flood control channel.

Alex Poli – he goes by the name Man One – is a longtime graffiti artist, gallery owner, and organizer of the mural event. From a bridge overlooking the Arroyo Seco, he described a mural created with red, yellow and navy blue spray paint.

Man One: It's a beautiful piece by Mear. Mear is, like, one of L.A.'s best known graffiti artists. The piece actually says "cultivate love." And it had an image of a woman painting a flower in the ground.

Guzman-Lopez: "Had," Man One said, because a couple of weeks ago someone painted over part of Mear's mural and many others with large swaths of gray paint. Such large swaths, he said, that he believes a municipal graffiti removal crew did the job.

Man One suspects L.A. County officials are responsible, even though the permit to paint in the channel came from the county's department of public works.

His suspicions arise from an early October meeting called by L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina. The supervisor was furious, Man One said, and she loudly demanded that Friends of the L.A. River paint over the murals because some contained what she called sexist images and others ridiculed police. Man One and another person at the meeting said Molina added that the permitted murals would generate illegal graffiti and violence among competing taggers.

Man One: She views all graffiti art as graffiti, as vandalism. And that was evident. She didn't care about, she didn't care about a mural that said "Cultivate Love," she didn't care about a mural that was talking about the creatures of the river; to her it's all the same.

Guzman-Lopez: At least one mural visible to pedestrians depicts a woman in tight fitting clothes. Man One said none of the works depicted police in a negative light. A spokeswoman for Gloria Molina said the supervisor didn't order the murals painted over. That was all the comment her office would offer.

L.A. City councilman Ed Reyes denied that city crews painted over the murals. He lent his support when organizers proposed the mural project. Upon further questioning Reyes conceded he shares Molina's view about the downside of legal graffiti.

Ed Reyes: What was permitted, was permitted, that was a fact. But what tended to happen was you had a whole other by-product of other type of graffiti that came along with it.

Guzman-Lopez: The debate's far from over. Friends of the L.A. River and Man One plan to stage a similar but much larger mural event a year from now. For the time being, Man One is focusing his attention on a future commission. The City of Pasadena, he said, wants him to craft a graffiti mural for one of its administration buildings.