Artists take matters into their own hands to put on massive mural show
Juan Alvarado’s mural is violent. Militant figures clash with tormented victims in fiery shades of red, yellow and orange paint. The artwork empathizes with the recent migrant caravan that traveled from Central America to Tijuana, resulting in ongoing clashes and controversy between the U.S. and those seeking asylum here.
“I keep thinking a couple decades ago it could have been me crossing that border or me in detention centers or our lives at risk in Honduras,” Alvarado said. “I know how bad it is right now, I don’t blame a lot of people for trying to leave what’s going on out there.”
Alvarado, more commonly known by his artist name, “Joon the Goon,” is of Honduran descent, has lived in Pasadena and Los Angeles and moved to Long Beach three and a half years ago to pursue his art practice.
His mural is one of 13 large-scale works local and regional artists have painted on the walls of an empty floor of The Icehouse Arts Complex, a mixed-use venue—and former seafood packing and shipping facility—in Long Beach’s Washington neighborhood.
The murals are the main attraction of “Hello, Welcome,” an artist-organized exhibition opening Saturday, Jan. 12, and possibly the cultural event of the year for art, according to Josh Garcia, one of the main coordinators of the show, who also runs InspiredLBC, a company he founded in late 2016 to connect artists to communities.
On Monday, several of the muralists were still hard at work. Friends who visited to check out their progress were greeted, after climbing five flights of stairs, with the harsh smell of paint fumes, the rattling of spray cans echoing throughout the cavernous space, grit crunching under their feet on the bare concrete floors.
The exhibition is about as DIY as it gets; “home grown” is a term proudly tossed around by the artists to describe it. They’ve taken matters into their own hands to create an opportunity to show their work, instead of waiting for a door to open, for a higher institution or gallery to approve of or support them.
It’s a platform created “for artists by artists.”
“There aren’t any actual galleries that are investing in us so, in a way, we have to create our own opportunities,” said Long Beach artist Bodeck Hernandez.
It’s also a reason to shake things up. What with established, international events like POW! WOW! Long Beach largely setting the bar for how murals are painted locally, with artists often crossing their fingers for an invitation to get their work out in front of the thousands of people who attend the week-long mural festival.
“There’s so many events that happen in L.A. where people have to go[…]to get a certain caliber of exposition and there’s some in Long Beach here and there, but it’s spaced out and it’s very consistent venues and groups that are doing it,” said artist and illustrator Erik Vincent, also known as “Roshi”. “So we’re like, well, we could just do this ourselves.”
Such a large undertaking involving so many people requires a collaborative energy that’s often hard to find; the artists know this, and cherish that chemistry.
Many of them have met and worked together through various local events, including the Long Beach Filipino Fest, POW! WOW! Long Beach and Ink & Drink, a monthly meetup at Downtown eatery, Rebel Bite, where artists and illustrators get together to draw and bounce ideas off each other.
“We have all hit the point that we’re at because we’ve learned that we have to get things done ourselves,” said Vincent. “We’ve all put the time in and the work in to learn how to actualize an idea, and that’s what draws us all together.”
The 13 have been working on their murals for the past month and a half, pushing and motivating each other through the process. Artist Erwin Papa, whose works rarely expand past a 3 x 5 piece of paper, said for many of them, these are the largest pieces they’ve ever painted.
Joey Stupor, who normally creates much smaller, resin-based works, painted a larger-than-life interpretation of himself floating on an island surrounded by black, blissful space. Kimo Bautista’s mural shows plants and abstracted bioforms clashing with human technology.
Los Angeles-based artist Allison Bamcat’s first mural in Long Beach is the largest portrait she’s ever painted. It’s hand-brushed, serene, and its soft colors complement the male-dominated group with a feminine piece.
“I think having our own space and not competing in the general circuit gives us an opportunity to show some individuality, have no constrictions on what we want to create and just show what a community we are,” Bamcat said.
“[…]We created our own opportunity, our own idea. And that’s the beauty of art, right? You create something from nothing into something,” Garcia said.
While not all the murals in “Hello, Welcome” are as political as Alvarado’s, all show an unfettered creative control not always allowed with commissioned works or painting in public spaces. Aside from a couple sponsors, including a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach, the event is mostly self-funded.
“This would never be public art, it’s just too violent,” Alvarado said, standing in front of his work. “I took advantage of that. No one’s going to tell me what to do, so I thought I’d take a chance and paint something that’s close to home.”
The exhibition was made possible when the owner of the building, John Chiang, agreed to let the artists use the space after Alvarado painted a mural on its exterior during POW! WOW! Long Beach last year (make sure to look up before you walk through the door on Saturday).
Chiang said when he purchased the building it had been vacant for years and bringing local artists into the neighborhood helped him activate it. He also wants to build affordable art studios there in the near future.
“It’s a mutually beneficial situation,” Chiang said. “I would really like to see more art activities going on in the neighborhood, especially where we are right now. We should be able to get it going, hopefully.”
And what’s exciting, is this is just the beginning, Garcia said.
“This event is pretty much the sum of creative freedom. We did exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it and it’s going to show. Come Saturday, it’s going to show.”
On Saturday, expect more than just visual art, with an eclectic mix of local bands readying to play the event with performances by DJ trio 9095, Bootleg Orchestra, Koibito, BlckNoise and Dirty Merlin. There will also be a guest art show, art for sale, raffles and more. For the full list of artists and performers, visit the website here.
“Hello, Welcome” opens at The Icehouse Arts Complex at 625 W. Anaheim St., on Saturday, Jan. 12 from 7 p.m. to midnight and is free to attend. RSVP via the website here. Upcoming events related to the show will include an all-female live art battle (date to be decided) and a closing reception tentatively scheduled for Feb. 12. Stay up to date with what’s to come on Instagram @inspiredlbc and Facebook here.
Organizers are still seeking a few volunteers and event sponsorships. If interested, please contact [email protected].
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