Mural artist Kent Twitchell is extra busy at his canvas: L.A.'s streets
By Deborah Vankin
With his shock of silver hair, snowy beard and paint-spattered blue jeans, Kent Twitchell
races around his downtown L.A. art studio, giving a tour. The searingly bright loft feels like a kaleidoscopic time warp, the stark, white walls a prism of murals, all from different time periods, all at different stages of production.
Against one wall, Twitchell's pencil sketch of the artist Ed Ruscha is taped to a cardboard model of a building; the 1987 mural was destroyed in 2006 but is coming back to life, re-imagined. Against another wall, a new mural is starting up: The enormous, partly painted faces of Special Olympics ambassadors Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne are taking shape on long spools of paper that dangle from the ceiling and drape the concrete floor. Across the room, there's a coagulation of sketches and face studies for a redux of Twitchell's 1974 "The Freeway Lady." Her giant, wrinkled hand clutches a multicolored afghan that nearly fills the south side of the studio.
"We lose so many things, like trees and buildings," Twitchell says as Rachmaninoff, his favorite, blasts from the stereo. "To have something from our past, that began to mean something to us in the city, come back and be appreciated — it's kind of a magical thing."
At 72, Twitchell has five mural projects — new commissions and the resurrection of significant early works — that form a key moment in his career. Last month the artist announced he would be repainting his famous "Ed Ruscha Monument" at a new location: the American Hotel in the arts district of downtown L.A. He'd spent more than a decade creating the original 70-foot-tall mural, which adorned a Hill Street building for almost 20 years. The mural was whitewashed, without Twitchell's permission, by a work crew renovating the future YWCA Job Corps Center. He's longed to repaint it ever since, and when he does, the new mural will depict an older Ruscha.
"I got a little nervous when he said he'd depict me as I look today," Ruscha jokes. "Seriously, Kent's a great artist, one of a kind, a great muralist. And I'll feel elevated up on that wall."
Twitchell is also part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's current exhibition "Drawing in L.A.: The 1960s and 70s." Pieces of his little-seen Michael Jackson mural, painted in the early '90s but never installed, are on display at the Museum of the San Fernando Valley; and he's part of Couturier Gallery's "L.A. Muralists: In Their Studios II," along with other longtime public artists Judithe Hernandez, David Botello and Wayne Healy. Read more here.