L.A. Urban Visionaries ~ A Fading Muralist Art Form 1969-2011
In 1970, Los Angeles in many ways as compared to Today, was still kind of a Small Town. 2 L.A. Artists, living founder & still Active Artist Victor Henderson and now deceased co-founder Terry Schoonhoven created the L.A. Fine Art Squad.
In a largely Pre-Gangsta & Grafitti Era, the word Tagger hadn’t been invented yet. These two artists Divided & Conquered Los Angeles with their Epic in Grandeur, Realism and Scale- Urban Murals on the Streets of Los Angeles. In that time, Los Angeles was having a sort of Renaissance Redux and the Rare Ability to Poke Fun at itself.
The film, Shampoo from 1975 and starring Reigning TinselTown Real-Life Lothario Warren Beatty, the Understated Eroticism of Ms. Julie Christie (LOVE her Table Manners), the Overstated & Ultra 70’s Ms. Goldie Hawn and a very Mrs. Robinson-Like Lee Grant. Take your pick George, you Lucky Guy…In a thinly disguised screenplay based on Real Life Hollywood Swingers like hairdressers Jon Peters & Doomed by the Manson Family – Jay Sebring, Shampoo is a brilliant look at 70’s Hollywood Life itself, much the same as Sunset Boulevard had done some Twenty years before. With this Mentality in Mind, The L.A. Fine Art Squad was Born.
Victor Henderson and Terry Schoonhoven began their collaboration in 1969 with the mural, Brooks Street Painting, on the back wall of Henderson’s Venice studio. A portrait of his one-time girlfriend, who lived upstairs.
The house, a few blocks from the Venice Boardwalk has been replaced by condominiums, the mural, as many of the Fine Art Squad’s later works, did not survive, as we shall see.
Schoonhoven & Henderson as a Mural Team were now Clearly Inspired, and from their Humble Beginnings of Brooks Street, came the Dawn of the Seventies SuperGraphics Era. The Newly Christened L.A. Fine Art Squad added 2 New Members, Jim Frazen and Leonard Koren, students of Schoonhoven’s. The Squad nowgeared up Big Time & tackled the 15,000 square foot exterior of the groovy Climax Nightclub, on La Cienega Boulevard…
Beverly Hills Siddhartha ~ A Name that Reeks of 70’s Warholian & Rock N’Roll Culture
Beverly Hills Siddhartha • 1969. LAFAS Completely Covered the 15,000 square foot exterior of the Climax Nightclub in Beverly Hills,. In a time & place that arguably spawns the Birth of the Disco Era. As art, The LA. Fine Arts Squad took a stand against the Staid Studio Standard of ‘contained’ art in a room or gallery and Poking Fun at & For the Community – Art for All and For the Times. Aware of Hollywood Excess, Adult Absurdity and Current California Culture, their art Paved the Way for Future Environmental & Performance Artists who went on to become Much Bigger Success Stories & Shameless Self-Promoters ~ a la Christo.
Within 2 Years new owners would buy the Climax & in true Seventies Stucco over it Fashion, painted out the entire work and exterior in a Bold Stroke of pure blank white. And so…The Fine Arts Squad Marched On to an Increasingly Tongue in Cheek Drummer. Based on a report from 1949 that it had actually Snowed in Venice, the Squad carried out its Next Mission on the Venice Boardwalk. The aptly named ~
Venice in Snow 1970
Photos of the Fine Art Squad works, like the works themselves, are rare. Two of the only existing 70’s era snapshots of the mural (stitched together here) failed to even show the entire work, as evidenced by the missing ‘R’ of the MARKET above.
And, True to Form – who cares it’s just L.A. cement-it-over Urban Renewal-style –Venice in Snow, which stills exists today, has been permanently obscured by a newer building erected directly in front of it on the miniscule plot of land shown. Only in L.A., by Strange Fate the mural is one of the only Fine Art Squad works preserved for years to come, but of course no one can see it. Perhaps sensing this very California Fatalist Feeling, L.A. Fine Art Squad would next create perhaps their Most Recognizable Work ~ one that is Truly Synonymous with L.A. itself .
The Catalyst of 2011 Current World Events and the Impending Doom of THE BIG ONE ~ Itself a California Icon, are what makes Isle of California 1970-1972 one of our most Legitimate Urban Artworks
Down the Road in Zuma Beach at the Same Seventies Time another L.A. Poet Laureate Artiste expressed much the Same Sentiment on his Classic California album Time Fades Away, Neil Young ~
And Indeed even in L.A. City of the Stars….Time Fades Away
L.A. Fine Art Squad carried on their work with a Series of increasingly Surrealist Trompe L’oleil works, mainly in and around Venice. Their murals perhaps never reached again the Epic Timeless Irony as Isle of California conveyed.
Terry Schoonhoven then set off & worked primarily as an individual and rendered the surrounding Venice neighborhood in a Mirror-image Reflection of the Urban View opposite, almost M.C. Escher-Gone to California Style. His St. Charles mural, on Speedway Avenue in Venice at 50 feet high x 100 feet long is his most Enduring Solo Work ~
Like many of their works were destined, The L.A. Fine Art Squad were Fading & Fast Becoming Extinct. New Emerging California Muralists adopted their Witty Slice of Life Style and emulated the Nutty Venice Neighborhood with Increasing Verve & Skill.
A Prime Example of the Fine Art Squad’s Influence on Funky Faux Futurists is Brandelli’s Brig 1973 ~ a Self-Portrait of Artist Art Mortimer, painting himself painting Former 1930’s Boxer, Babe & Betty Brandelli and their bar which lives on in Venice to this day, The Brig.
From the Origins of L.A. Fine Art Squad Emerged The Messiah of All L.A.Muralists ~Kent Twitchell
Artist/Illustrator/Muralist Extraordinaire Kent Twitchell is Easily The Most Prolific Picasso of all L.A. Muralists. Nearly his entire life has contained a Constant Form of Illustrative Expression. Twitchell arrived in Los Angeles in 1968, just at the founding of the L.A. Fine Art Squad and Los Angeles as a World Epicenter of the New Muralists. Pop Culture expressed in the Art & Music scenes were exploding just as Twitchell arrived. From his First Large-scale work –
Twitchell as an L.A. transplant Immediately Conveyed his understanding for Diverse & Angeleno Culture ~ con Respecto
The Mural has existed for nearly 40 years in the Heart of Downtown L.A. on the side of Victor Clothing Co., on Broadway. In a very Telling photo, Angeleno Locale Chicano Grafitti permeates the entire Urban Existence of Los Angeles and is Truly a Legitimate Cultural Art Form in its own right. The fact this mural is un-tagged, albeit the walls all around it, shows a Mutual Cross-Cultural respect not only in Subject Matter by Twitchell, but by the Community as well.
Twitchell’s Immediate Grasp of the Diverse L.A. Neighborhoods & Culture, his huge Illustrative Skill nonwithstanding and his Longevity in the Medium are what has made him THE L.A. Muralist to this day. His ability to choose Offbeat Characters in California Culture that Strike a Chord with Angelenos is uncanny, the Mural even overshadowing the fame of the subject and reinforcing the Un-obvious, as in Twitchell’s next mural of actor Strother Martin at Fountain Avenue & Kingsley Drive in Hollywood ~
Strother Martin Monument 1971
In 1970 in Twitchell’s work around town, his reputation was building & he clearly did not Have a Failure to Communicate..
“I painted only a black and white face of Strother at first. Word got around and he drove over to see it. Then he called me and we became friends. As I was painting the afghan he agreed to pose for me and I added the figure on the left…” Kent Twitchell
Twitchell’s Next Work proved to Be Brilliant not so much in Subject Matter, but perhaps his awareness that in L.A., everything is about location Location LOCATION…
The Freeway Lady 1974
No Angeleno who has Been Around Town for any length of time has not seen & felt the presence of The Freeway Lady. She watched over California Travellers on the 101 Freeway in Downtown L.A. for years, like an Aging Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Twitchell has this to say about her ~
“I am told this was America’s first freeway mural. I painted it in 1974 to honor my grandmother who lived in Hollywood. I chose actress Lillian Bronson as my model and we remained friends. She overlooked the Hollywood Freeway for 12 years and was suddenly destroyed. I am now painting her again, thanks to the Valley Institute of Visual Art (VIVA). A new front afghan was created by members of the Crochet Guild of Sacramento. The flying afghan streamer is being created by Peggy Baxter of Long Beach. The new mural will be on the west wall of the VIVA gallery at 13261 Moorpark at Fulton in Sherman Oaks . . . . Update: VIVA was prevented from putting the mural up and now it may possibly be painted on the campus of Valley College, visible to the public streets outside.”
His Work & Ethos show a repeated Sensitivity to the Surrounding Environment and ability to Reach the Hearts of Hardened L.A. City Dwellers through his Astute Choice of Freeway-Close Commercial Canvases to Paint. Perhaps this is what makes Kent Twitchell’s Legacy as one of California’s most Enduring Artists, much like that of one of his Most Famous Subjects ~
Ed Ruscha Monument 1980
“I Painted it to Honor All California Artists” Kent Twitchell
In True Jaded Faded California Fashion, Twitchell’s 6-story tall Hill Street L.A. work suffered the Fate of many works by L.A. Fine Art Squad so many years before, as Ed Ruscha Monument Mysteriously Just Disappeared one day in 2006…
Twitchell was able to sue & gain a substantial Million-Dollar plus settlement as to the loss of his Iconic Homage to all us California Artists. He has gone on to Create several other Noteworthy Works and indeed remains a living Active California Cultural Treasure to this day. Urban Graffiti for 30 years now has become a Valid Art Form as well…Case in Point ~ Elusive English Artist Banksy arriving on the L.A. Art Scene just in Time for the 2011 Academy Awards, with a Decidedly Reminiscent Wit, Message and Look of Early Pop Art. All Valid & Legit & Honored as an Innovative Modern Artist ~
Charlie Burn 2011
Thanksy Banksy for Comin’ to Town ~ but us California Creators Been There Done That ~
Ed Ruscha • Burning Gas Station 1966
“The spray paint vandalism was at the core of the end of the mural movement. L.A. started the murals in the late 60s with those of us who thought of ourselves as hippies and it travelled around the world, helped by the media attention unusual things in L.A. get. Ironically LA has now become the one place where murals cannot survive. Most of the murals that were painted over were done so because they were covered with graffiti. Efforts to clean the tagging eventually compromised the paint surface and the perception was that the paint was not lasting. Today perception is more powerful/influential than truth and people began thinking of murals as ugly graffiti-laden walls that would have been better left unpainted. Spray paint vandalism and the murals have now been tainted with the same understandable discrimination and the days of the late 60s through the mid 80s are a memory for those of us who were there. The “Mural Capital of the World” has become the” Graffiti Capital of the World” and LA has officially outlawed murals along with building-sized commercial ads. That doesn’t stop the taggers of course. It’s a strange new world. You are absolutely right though. We thought that we were in Florence. That’s why we put so much into our paintings. We thought the world was good and that people just all wanted to be nice.”
~ Kent Twitchell, 2010
L.A. Times- Feb 17, 2011 • Urban Outfitters, who have made a few bucks off the work of street artist Banksy through the years, now allegedly want his “Crayola Shooter” piece, on the wall behind their Westwood store, to be painted over.
Make Art Not War ~ Cheers, Federico
Simon Rodia at work on his 30 Year Art Project ~ The Watts Towers, 1951