Published: May 16, 2013
Our next issue of LMU Magazine, arriving in a few weeks, will feature a piece we’ve dreamed about for almost three years: a photo essay and feature story on the murals of Los Angeles. L.A.’s murals are inspiring and beautiful, and they’re just about everywhere. They are why the city has been called the “Mural Capital of the World.” But to get the shots we’d need, we feared Jon Rou, the university photographer, would be faced with multiple, time-consuming photo shoots all over Los Angeles.
As we began planning the upcoming issue, we could resist no longer. Fortunately, we discovered the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), organizations that document murals and fight for their preservation. The Mural Conservancy, in particular, posts an extensive database with images of L.A. murals that is searchable by location, title, artist and topic. That allowed us to plan the murals we’d shoot, rather than wander L.A.’s streets for weeks. Members of the conservancy can also take custom tours of murals, led by Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams, and I joined one that featured some 10 murals within walking distance of Olvera St. in downtown Los Angeles.
The second step was to identify members of the LMU community who work on or study murals. I knew Karen Mary Davalos, professor and chair of the Department of Chicano/a Studies, would be an invaluable resource, because she teaches courses on Chicano art and culture in the region. She wrote an essay we’ve posted on the magazine’s website. She also directed me to Christopher Torres ’09, her former student who studied murals in New York, Paris and Los Angeles. He now works as a designer at Rios Clementi Hale Studios, architecture firm in Los Angeles. Then I rummaged through the roster of the Department of Art and Art History and discovered that Professor Damon Willick specializes in the history of L.A. art. Plus, he grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where he visited the “Great Wall of Los Angeles” as a child. Finally, Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, professor in the Department of Theological Studies, explores art and religion in her research, and she has loved murals for years. They’re all part of the feature story you’ll soon see.
But my most exciting “find” came very late in our editorial process when I discovered Man One (Alejandro Poli ’93), an L.A.-based painter and artist — an alumnus who is a muralist. I say discovered facetiously. Man One’s work can be seen in Los Angeles, Mexico and elsewhere. He’s been featured in a KCET documentary and honored by the Los Angeles City Council for his dedication to the HeArt Project, an art workshop for L.A. youth. His work has been commissioned by MTV, ESPN and Adidas and others. Man One has a been an important L.A. artist for much longer than when I first began dreaming about murals.
Our staff was thrilled to have experts — professors and designers — featured in our story, but finding an alumnus who is a muralist felt almost like finding gold nuggets in a nearby stream. We had to get his work into the magazine. So I spent an afternoon in Man One’s Lincoln Heights studio hearing about his work and the inspiration he took from murals as a child when he began to experiment with graffiti art.
In the course of our conversation, I mentioned a legendary Washington, D.C., street artist who went by the name Cool “Disco” Dan. Man One knew his work. A few days later, I emailed poet Joseph Ross ’80, who lives in D.C., and who once wrote a piece about imagination for LMU Magazine. Joe, who has a Cool “Disco” Dan poster, and I have become friends, and I told him about my meeting with an LMU alumnus in Los Angeles, a muralist, who knew the work of Cool “Disco” Dan. Within a few weeks, I saw a post on Man One’s blog about a poem Joe had written about a Man One mural in Los Angeles.
That story borders on being convoluted, I know. But what thrilled me was that a creative idea that lay dormant for three years began to pull in members of the LMU community in Los Angeles as it came to fruition in LMU Magazine and then somehow managed to create a bridge between two very different artists, a poet and a muralist both LMU alumni, on opposite coasts of the country. I like to imagine that LMU Magazine draws us together, but I never imagined that it could happen quite like this. Like a spark that jumps a freeway, a creative idea can become explosive.
(Above, a detail of “They Claim I’m a Criminal,” a mural by Man One (Alejandro Poli ’93) located at 6120 S. Vermont Ave., in Los Angeles, photographed by Jon Rou)