Nine Years After Being Destroyed, Twitchell’s ‘Ed Ruscha Monument’ Mural to Return
By Heidi Kulicke
was at his daughter’s wedding in June 2006 when he got a phone call that changed his life. His 70-foot tall full-body mural of artist Ed Ruscha had been painted over without his consent.
The artwork, titled “Ed Ruscha Monument,” had taken more than a decade to complete. Further, it was a tribute to his idol.
Nine years later, Twitchell can finally put the past behind him. On Thursday afternoon, he will announce that a replacement mural, with an updated image of Ruscha, will rise on the exterior of the American Hotel in the Arts District.
The mural will be painted on the northwest side of the building, facing the Angel City Brewery on Alameda Street. It will feature a minimalist design of Ruscha in full color. Shadows will extend across the length of the wall in a gray and black color scheme, Twitchell said. It will stand 30 feet high.
The work will begin in July, and Twitchell estimates the process will take three to six months, though he cautioned that it could be longer. He said the ultimate price is currently unknown, as it depends on the length of the process. The nonprofit organization All City Mural Endeavor secured $5,000 in initial funding from Downtown City Councilman José Huizar’s office, and additional fundraising efforts continue.
Speaking last week at his Broadway studio, Twitchell, 72, was thrilled at the opportunity.
“It’s a great feeling when something destroyed can be returned,” Twitchell said.
Twitchell completed the “Ed Ruscha Monument” in 1987 on the side of a building at 1031 S. Hill St. For nearly two decades it stood regally over a community that had yet to take off as a residential hub.
Then, Twitchell recalls, the mural was vandalized. It was in the process of being restored when, suddenly, it was whitewashed at the request of the building’s owner, the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, which was readying it for a new YWCA Job Corps Center.
The destruction of the artwork violated the Federal Visual Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act, which outlaw the alteration or destruction of public art without prior notice given to the artist.Twitchell said he would have gladly moved the mural if he was told that the YWCA didn’t want it, but he said the organization never contacted him.
Twitchell hired a lawyer and took the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles and 12 other defendants to court. He eventually received a $1.1 million settlement.
“We fought for two years and won,” Twitchell said. “It was the biggest settlement for public art in the country.”
Still, justice was only partially served, Twitchell said, as he couldn’t shake the idea of replacing the artwork.
“I’ve thought about redoing the mural every day since,” Twitchell said. “I had to do it over again.”
Twitchell said he was considering re-creating the mural at the L.A. Mart in 2008, but the recession got in the way. He kept searching until he stumbled across the American Hotel while walking through the Arts District in January.
He quickly garnered support from entities including the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and Art Share L.A., which is across the street from the hotel. Twitchell will be storing his supplies at the Art Share building, where he can take a shower or nap if needed.
The American Hotel is owned by Mark Verge, the founder of Westside Rentals. Verge was on board with Twitchell’s plan as soon as he was contacted, according to David Stevenson, property manager of the building at 303 S. Hewitt St.
“We’re in the heart of the Arts District,” Stevenson said. “We’re a part of this community and want to support local artists in the community.”
The mural won’t be a replica of the former one. Instead of using the full-body photo of Ruscha he took roughly 40 years ago, Twitchell decided to paint a current take on the artist. Ruscha came to Twitchell’s studio for a photo shoot in preparation for the new mural, which will feature the prominent artist from the waist up.
“Why paint him young? Why not have a mural of an iconic artist in his 70s?” Twitchell asked. “He means more to people as an older guy anyway.”
This is a busy time for Twitchell, who has five other projects on the horizon, including a mural at 11th and Hope streets for the Special Olympics World Games headed to Los Angeles next month.
He has been nearly as busy during his five-decade career, and time and again his works have materialized on buildings and walls in Downtown Los Angeles. His most-seen work, “Harbor Freeway Overture,” depicting members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, is on the side of the FIGat7th shopping center, and is glimpsed by thousands of northbound drivers on the 110 Freeway every day.
In 2013, he completed three murals as part of the renovation of the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall at 1816 S. Hope St. His other work includes a 1971 mural of Steve McQueen and a Michael Jackson mural.
Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, noted his reputation and influence.
“Kent is a highly respected artist, and the premier muralist in Los Angeles,” said Rojas-Williams. “He’s an inspiration to millions of people internationally.”
For Twitchell, meanwhile, there is something fitting about the subject of his upcoming work and its new location. He said that people went “ballistic” at the idea of the mural when he first presented it six months ago.
“I said, ‘I think the Arts District needs Ed Ruscha looking down on it,’ and everyone got excited,” he said.