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Mural's Medium, Not Its Message, Creates a Stir

October 22, 1987|TRISH REYNALES | Times Staff Writer

To some, it's art--with a powerful anti-drug message. To others, it's a "bomb" thrown by "writers" to stake out turf. To others still, the mural that popped up in Eagle Rock's Yosemite Park recently is just more graffiti in a neighborhood already riddled with spray-can scrawl.

In any case, it's hard to ignore the new, 15-foot-by-20-foot mural in the park next to Eagle Rock High School. Painted on the side of a handball court, it looms clearly from Yosemite Drive. It features the image of a crimson-lipped, poison green woman. The words "Just Say No" swirl in salmon pink across the blue wall; "To COCAINE" is lettered below in gray with red trim. A dedication reads, "To the Kids of L.A."

Differs From Graffiti

Beyond its prominent position and anti-drug message, another factor sets this mural apart from the "bombs"--graffiti art murals--and "tags"--writers' nicknames--marking the park's trees, pool, signs, walls and sidewalks. This mural was painted with the permission of the park's director, Dorothy Thompson.

Unbeknown to Thompson, the same artist, 19-year-old Blaine Austin, painted a 5-foot-high, fork-tongued, pink and yellow devil on the pool building three days later. The building, a frequent target for graffiti, had been repainted by the city two weeks earlier.

Thompson said Austin came to her office Sept. 15 and told her that he wanted to do the mural as an assignment for his art class. She said he told her he had chosen the anti-drug theme because a friend had died recently from cocaine abuse.

"He came to me strictly as a student from Glendale Community College," Thompson said. "I didn't get approval from the city, which I should have."

But so far, she said, the city has not said a word, and response from neighborhood residents has been favorable. "The mural has a great message," she said. "I hope the kids get the message. I've even had kids stand out in front of it and get their pictures taken."

Diane Morrison, 31, a mother of two toddlers who lives near the park, said she likes the mural, "especially because of its message." But John Sample, 15, a 10th-grader at Eagle Rock High School, doubted that message's sincerity.

"I don't think whoever did it painted it because he's off drugs necessarily," Sample said. "He just wanted to paint the wall."

Peter Casada, community liaison worker for Community Youth Gang Service of Los Angeles who operates a graffiti paint-out group, said the mural's message is not the point.

"The message is a good message," he said. "But, at the same time, the kids make a point of signing their names. They don't care what message they paint up there, as long as they can sign their tags. They'd paint anything."

After Thompson approved the anti-drug mural, Austin set to work. He called The Times about his project. He drew up a preliminary sketch of "Just Say No." The next day, he and four friends, members of a crew of graffiti artists who call themselves the L.A. Beastie Boys, gathered at the park. They painted the mural in about six hours.

At Glendale Community College, Austin is enrolled in Design I, an art class taught by Carol Arutian. The class met for the first time Sept. 15, at 7 p.m., the same day Austin had approached Thompson about the mural. In a phone interview, Arutian said she had neither heard about nor seen "Just Say No;" nor had she assigned her students to paint a mural.

"They're working on a series of self-portraits right now," she said. "But I did tell Blaine that perhaps his interest in graffiti art could work into an assignment."

Austin told Thompson that "Just Say No" is the first in a five-part series of anti-drug murals he plans to do.

"I wanted to do it because my friend (overdosed) on cocaine," Austin said. "He was in a gang, he had suicidal tendencies, and he was free-basing. I've never done free-base. I haven't been into drugs for about five years. But, somehow, it exploded and he burned to death."

Declines to Name Friend

Austin declined to name his friend.

"I'm not especially proud of having known him," he said. "He's just another statistic now. He can't see the mural. But this is for the kids here, so what happened to him won't happen to them. Lots of kids and parents have complimented me on it."

Austin identified himself as "Baba," the artist who had painted the devil on the pool building, dedicated it "For Daniel," and signed his "tag." A well-dressed young man sporting a "L.A. Beastie Boys" baseball cap worn backward, Austin said he and his crew were also responsible for several "tags" on the sidewalk and walls of the pool building, as well as two outlines of bodies with bleeding hearts of red paint.

He said the body outlines were painted in memory of friends who had died, the victims of stabbings and drive-by shootings.

"I did the devil for Daniel," he continued. "He's 6, my boss's son. He's totally scared of Freddy Krueger from that movie, 'Nightmare on Elm Street.' The devil is to show him it's just an image. There's nothing to be afraid of."

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