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Los Angeles Murals Add Color, Character to City

The city of Los Angeles is famous for its murals, located on the sides of buildings and highway overpasses. Artists say the murals add character and color to the urban landscape.

Many drivers pass a giant mural of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their daily commute.

Easily seen from the freeway near the city center, the towering work features the orchestra's violinist, oboe and viola players.

Created in 1991 by muralist Kent Twitchell, the work reminds L.A. residents of the city's culture beyond its crowded freeways.

Another mural on a two-story house a short distance from downtown was done in 1971, an early work by artist Twitchell.

“I decided to paint my favorite actor, Steve McQueen. I didn't fancy myself to be some heavy-duty modernist artist. I was one of the folk artists. I just painted what felt good to me," said Twitchell.

Photographs of that mural made Twitchell famous.

His other works range from a tribute to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, to panels depicting America's founding fathers. Some important murals, however, have been painted over or defaced by graffiti.

“I was so naive. I thought I was living in Florence and that people would just appreciate and love it. But that didn't turn out to be the case in many instances, and a lot of the great L.A. murals are gone now," he said.

Some historic art in Los Angeles has been restored. Leslie Rainer of the Getty Conservation Institute says the 1932 mural by visiting Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros was painstakingly conserved.

“He painted this very controversial image of a crucified central figure with an eagle looming above him, and some revolutionaries aiming their rifles at the eagle," said Rainer.

She says the mural's message is not entirely clear. The eagle could represent the United States, or Mexico, which both embrace the bird as a national symbol. But the image offended local city leaders and it was painted over. Yet the Siqueiros mural served as an inspiration to muralists who have taken up their brushes since the 1960s.

Artist Lydia Emily conveys a social message with her wall art. She tells the story of a victim of sexual trafficking named Jessica in one of her murals. It shows a young woman's face and a bird that represents freedom.

“I did an interview with Jessica where I learned her entire story, how she was kidnapped, how she was sexually trafficked for her whole life, how she was rescued, how she became who she is today. And then I tried to paint the narrative," said Emily.

Lydia Emily painted another work of art in the homeless neighborhood called Skid Row. It shows an African woman of the Masai tribe and native birds of Kenya, and she says it represents the plight of the world's indigenous people.

Los Angeles officials, once hostile to street art, have embraced it - if it's done with the permission of the property owners. Officials recently loosened regulations on street murals in an effort to get more art and color in the city.