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Mount Washington Mural Would Continue Legacy of Art and Activism

Zack Christensen, Rob Sipchen, and Antonio Villaraigosa Jr. will speak at the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance tonight to garner support for a mural to honor their late friend Jack Rohman.

Here are some things that I love about our corner of Southern California.

Los Angeles is the mural capital of the world, according to the website of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), which is dedicated to the preservation of murals.

In Northeast Los Angles, writer, activist and preservationist Charles Fletcher Lummis not only created the city’s first museum as well as the quirky, river rock domicile but regularly held salons  at his home in order to draw activists, artists and other creative types to the area.

Lummis’ efforts to create a community of artists proved wildly successful.

For over a century, Mount Washington has been home to a booming community of bohemians and free thinkers.  Mount Washington’s legacy as an enclave of passionate artists and activists is detailed in Bonnie Freeman’s The Cultural Environment: Artists and Other Luminaries, one of many, fascinating, historical accounts on website.

Lummis’s Legacy

Zack Christensen, Rob Sipchen, and Antonio Villaraigosa Jr. are the newest generation to embody both the artistry and the activism that have long characterized residents of the Hill.  As , the three young men have been making the rounds of community meetings for the past few months to garner public support for their proposed mural, which would honor and memorialize their friend Jack Rohman, who committed suicide in January after battling schizophrenia for many years.

Charles Fletcher Lummis is quoted as saying, “I have not the art to say things softly.”  , the artists might have been characterized as channeling Lummis’ spirit.

Like Jack, the three young men grew up on Mount Washington.  With Jack and other friends, they created a series of guerilla art installations last summer on the concrete bulkhead below Mount Washington Drive between San Rafael and Canyon Vista Drives.  The temporary wheat paste installations were the last art that Jack, a student at New York's Sarah Lawrence College, made before he became too ill to create.

For Jack and the Community

SPARC defines their mural making mission as “creating sites of public memory.”

Jack’s friends want to honor his memory publicly by creating a mural on the Mount Washington Drive bulkhead but Christensen emphasizes that first and foremost, they want the mural to beautify and be part of the neighborhood.  Villaraigosa concurs that the mural would be for the “community as a whole” and points out that the bare, concrete bulkhead, which rises above a dry, brown, weedy slope and is covered with patches indicating painted out graffiti, is currently “drab and an eyesore."

Christensen adds that a blank wall is an invitation to taggers and points out that public art generally discourages graffiti, especially since a special, protective coating can be applied to murals today that make it possible for uninvited “artistic” additions to be easily wiped off.   He points out that there was no graffiti in the two months that the guerrilla installations were up on the bulkhead last summer while in the past week alone, there have been two instances of tagging.

A Narrative, Not an Installation

Earlier in the process, the artists were considering last year’s mural or possibly using some of the favored by Jack.   Whether the result of artistic evolution or feedback from the community, Christensen and his fellow artists are now very clear that the proposed mural will be a “visual narrative that is responding to a historical event…a journey from one point to another” and will noy include components of the guerrilla installation.

The content of the mural is still evolving and as of Sunday, Christensen was still deciding what images to bring to the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance meeting on Monday evening.

Community Members Urged to Voice Their Opinion

In The Cultural Environment: Artists and other Luminaries, Bonnie Freeman mentions Bob Scholfield, a real estate broker who sold many of the lots on Mount Washington but “only to those he felt would properly honor the land.”

Similarly, Sipchen honored the spirit of community in Mount Washington by urging neighbors to attend the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance meeting tonight, Monday, September 12 at 7:00 p.m. at the Carlin G. Smith Recreation Center, as well as the Mount Washington Association meeting on September 19 at the Jack and Denny Smith Library and Community Center. 

Villaraigosa and Christensen echoed Sipchen’s appeal to community members to come and “voice their opinions."

“We all grew up here,” reiterates Villaraigosa. “There was art at [Mount Washington] school and we grew up around it, we absorbed what the Hill and the neighborhood gave us.”

“The mural,” he continues, “is our way of honoring Jack and giving back to the neighborhood that has given us so much.”

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