Off the wall
Liberty Street murals
If walls could talk, the brick facades at 115 and 135 W. Liberty St. might be having a heated debate, one side vying for free speech, the other defending public decency and private property.
On Earth Day, artists from Reno and Los Angeles painted murals on the two adjacent, one-story buildings. Participant Rich VanGogh said that Laurie Trudell of property management company CRBE granted them permission to paint on the buildings, and in return he took on the responsibility of covering up any graffiti that may appear.
Gabba Gabba Gallery from Los Angeles sponsored the paint. No fee was paid, and the artists felt they were making a valuable contribution to local culture.
Los Angeles artist Andrea La Hue painted a cheery sprig of California poppies on the front. The back and west sides were covered with pictures typical of contemporary “street art,” generally boisterous, sometimes acerbic, with their DNA soaked in comic books.
One mural by Joe C. Rock and Hernan Borrero was a huge, realistic, swimming baby resembling the one on the cover of Nirvana’s album Nevermind, side by side with a cartoonish, sludge-green baby swimming in a cloud of toxic vapors.
On the night of June 20, the murals were painted over in a non-descript beige. Representatives from CBRE declined to comment. It is not unprecedented, however, for an artist to secure permission to paint an outdoor wall and have that permission revoked due to the work’s content. Rock painted a mural near Dandelion Deli, and it was painted over, ostensibly for that reason.
Artist Pan Pantoja felt that covering the Liberty Street murals was an intentional slight and said he was particularly embarrassed on behalf of the artists who’d traveled from Los Angeles. “That’s just really sad to me,” he said.
“There was never a written agreement,” said VanGogh. “It was all a handshake deal. Everybody assumed the handshake deal was good enough. At least I certainly did.”
Pantoja plans to install another mural in July at Rainshadow Community Charter High School, where he is an art teacher. This time, the agreement between artist and venue is somewhat more secure, but the work’s longevity is not guaranteed.
“We’ve gotten the approval from the landlord,” said Rainshadow Principal Toby Wiedenmayer. “I’m a humungous supporter of arts in the community. I’m very confident.”
Sierra Arts’ Eric Brooks, who’s involved in administrating sanctioned mural projects throughout the city, advises artists, “Get permission, and get it in writing. That’s what it comes down to.”
Part of the nature of street art, however, is that permission is sometimes akin to restriction. Much of their work exists on a gray-area continuum between graffiti and sponsored artwork.
Pantoja, who has several murals to his credit, summed up one reason that street artists will likely continue to accept the risks of making work when the content is not pre-approved: “They were the only two times I got to paint whatever I wanted. I usually paint what someone else wants.”