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Painting the Town : Pasadena to Star on Famed Artist's Mural

June 26, 1988|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

Kent Twitchell, whose famous giant outdoor portraits gaze out on Los Angeles from buildings and freeways, and 20 students are about to put Pasadena on a fence.

When the huge project is completed in about five weeks, the Pasadena City College students will have learned mural painting from a master, and Huntington Memorial Hospital will have a temporary work of art at the construction site of its new main building.

"I want us to go out and blow Pasadena's mind with this and make it absolutely beautiful," Twitchell told the PCC students enrolled in a special summer class devoted to painting the mural.

Ordinarily a man given to understatement, Twitchell exudes excitement over the project.

Will Take a Month

In an unusual agreement, the hospital is providing the 8-by-316-foot fence at California Boulevard and Pasadena Avenue, and money for paint and supplies. PCC students, most of them Twitchell-worshipers who leaped at the chance to learn from their idol, will design and paint the mural.

Twitchell will oversee the project, from the mural's conception last week through the painting that will begin about July 1 and continue every weekday until the end of the month.

After weatherproofing, the painted fence will stay in place a year or two while workers construct a replacement for the hospital's main building.

It then will be separated into panels about 16 feet long to be auctioned off as a joint fund-raiser for the hospital and PCC's art department.

"We'll be traveling new ground for me, having this many people" working on the mural, Twitchell said. "We'll be able to do things I've always wanted to do."

Olympic Murals

The muralist, who is 45, gained his greatest notice for "The Old Woman of the Freeway," a figure who was wrapped in a colorful afghan and looked out over the Hollywood Freeway until she was painted over late in 1986, amid protests. He also is known for a blue-hued bride and groom painted on a building on Broadway in Los Angeles, a six-story portrait of artist Ed Ruscha on Hope Street and freeway murals that were commissioned for the 1984 Olympics.

Now he wants to portray what he calls "the essence of Pasadena" along the fence. The mural will depict famous landmarks--City Hall, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Green Hotel, the Pacific Asia Museum and the Colorado Street Bridge among them--along with scenes of the city--palm trees, street lights and "beautiful old things that haven't been torn down yet."

"I want anyone looking at a section to know that's Pasadena, and I want it to be a jewel so you can say 'I did that!' " he told the class as he spelled out an intricate process for creating giant murals from tiny pictures.

First, Twitchell gave each student a roll of 35-millimeter film and said, "Go out and shoot everything."

He stayed up all night Tuesday developing the film to save the $5 it would have cost for each roll, and had students choose scenes from among the hundreds of prints.

The long picture that evolved from their photographs will be enlarged and undergo a process to help bring out gradations of colors. Each color and its four or five gradations will be marked by numbers. Each panel then will be marked off into squares.

Paint by Numbers

Students will draw or trace each square onto an assigned fence panel about 16 feet long, marking each color and gradation of color with a number. They will paint by numbers, blending the gradations of color as they paint, beginning with the darkest hues. Twitchell has ordered an acrylic paint that will be colored with special pigment made in Italy.

Using this process, Twitchell told the students, "you're going to hit the wall knowing you can't go wrong. People will think you're a genius. It's going to be a crowd-pleaser. I really think when this class is over you can do a commissioned work, no problem."

Several students said Twitchell's method of translating pictures to large surfaces is a new technique for them.

Eric Pruitt, an art student at Azusa Pacific University, said: "I'm amazed at how much he wants to share his techniques with us." Pruitt said he enrolled because "I've always been interested in gigantic paintings and felt it would be an honor to be in this class."

Drops Work for Class

Bonnie Nelson of South Pasadena said she closes her graphic design business during the hours she attends Twitchell's class.

"I really want to do something monumental," Nelson said, recalling the many times she took visitors to the site where Twitchell was painting the Ruscha portrait and yelled up to him as he worked.

"I knew it would be the chance of a lifetime to be studying under Twitchell," said Dian Allison of Montrose, who has an art business.

Twitchell said he also considers the class a chance of a lifetime, allowing him to do "something beyond my own capabilities."

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