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ART At Work : Fence at Construction Site Is Transformed Into a Larger-Than Life Advertisement

January 08, 1989|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Art in Stalinist Russia was known for its distinctive style called Socialist Realism--heroic tractor drivers, burly milkmaids. An unlikely modern variant has blossomed as a mural on Wilshire Boulevard's so-called Golden Mile--Capitalist Realism, perhaps?

Glowing in bright colors from the fence around a construction project near Westwood, the painting features a bare-chested blacksmith with his hammer held high. He is flanked by a stonemason, chipping away at a block of granite, and by a metalworker intently soldering copper panels.

Titled "The American Craftsman," the 70-foot-wide, 22-foot-tall work is meant by developer Lee Danielson of Cal Fed Enterprises to be both art and advertisement.

It is not a one of a kind. The Homart Development Co. is featuring an abstract work by Margaret Kelley along the top of a barricade at its new office building farther west on Wilshire Boulevard, and designer Jill Casty's colorful graphics adorn the Janss Court building site in Santa Monica.

Resembles WPA Art

But the depiction of heroic workers at the building to be known as The Wilshire is the most ambitious effort.

Although its style recalls the government-sponsored WPA art that decorated American schools and post offices in the 1930s, Danielson said "this is no public works project."

Indeed, the 27-story, $100-million condominium that will soon rise behind the facade, known in the trade as a barricade, will be anything but proletarian.

"If we start with a small thing like the barricade, that signifies what we're going to do with the rest of the project," Danielson said.

In the two months since it was installed, the mural has prompted more than 200 calls, Danielson said, some of them expressing interest in buying one of the building's apartments, which will cost from $600,000 to $2.8 million.

Potential buyers already have put down deposits on 20 of the building's 97 units, he said.

Although he does not take credit for the artwork, Danielson said the idea was born when he told his marketing people to come up with "something that was really classy and different."

Marketing director Bill Schwarz passed the idea to art director Frank Lacey of the Horlick Levin advertising agency, who recruited artist Bryan Haynes, formerly of Los Angeles and now a resident of St. Louis.

"Most condos are built out of precast concrete, but this one is being built of granite, limestone, copper, bronze and wrought iron, all very earthy elements that were used by master craftsmen . . . the kind of people that built the United States, that built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building," Lacey said.

"We didn't want just a big phone number (on the barricade). . . . It felt like the perfect vehicle for imagery that dealt with with master craftsmen."

Lacey hired Haynes, 29, for the job because they had worked together before and because, "I've got a small reputation for doing the '40s or '30s WPA look, and that's what he was shopping for," Haynes said.

Inspiration for Work

The artist, a graduate of the Art College Center of Design, said that as a child he was influenced by the All-American art of Thomas Hart Benson and Grant Wood, and that it was partial inspiration for the construction barricade, one of his first major commissions.

"It was just ideal," he said. "They come to you with the basic concept, and they leave the rest up to you, with guidance along the way. It's a perfect blend between fine art and eating for a living."

His commission, "not enough for a BMW but certainly more than a pickup truck," came out of the $60,000 that Cal Fed Enterprises spent on the billboard, a sum that has "come back in spades," according to the developer.

Haynes said he worked on the original design from early August to Sept. 20, coming up with a 50-inch-by-15-inch acrylic painting that was blown up to its final scale and reproduced in oils by a billboard-painting firm in East Los Angeles.

Haynes said the billboard "looks great" overall, but "there are a lot of details that didn't translate from my painting, which is to be expected. Colors and textures, things that other people wouldn't notice but I'd notice."

Permanent Display

The original will hang inside the completed building, while negotiations are under way to display the barricade itself in a museum once its 22 months on Wilshire Boulevard are over.

The developers are not the only ones enthusiastic about their venture into popular art.

Construction Supt. Chris Ball said 150 trucks drive past the barricade every day to remove dirt from the excavation for the building's parking lot, and none has yet bumped into the artwork.

"I think that's remarkable," Ball said.

"I like it. It's aesthetically pleasing," said carpenter John Snyder, who runs his own framing shop and sells art when he is not working on the construction site, which is three blocks west of Beverly Glen.

Danielson said he thought of the mural as a morale-booster for the workers, some of whom wear T-shirts printed with the blacksmith image.

But Snyder said had some hesitation.

"It's the first project I've been on that's gone to this extent to make it look nice, but as far as we go, we're on the inside of it all day," he said.

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