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Gang Artists Vow to Keep Neighborhood Mural Graffiti-Free


One of the most "tagged" walls in Silver Lake has gotten a face lift thanks to some neighborhood children and some of the taggers themselves who, struck by the beauty of the mural that resulted from their efforts, vowed to keep it graffiti-free.

The gang member-artists, who claim the mural's street corner as their turf, came to a dedication ceremony last weekend with beer bottles in brown bags and proclaimed the mural lovely enough to be the pride of Aztlan, the name of their gang.

The young men were tattooed with "Aztlan," which means "The Promised Land" in Spanish. Their bodies also boasted other marks all too common with their lifestyles: an array of scars from wounds while "protecting their turf."

"When I first saw (the completed mural), I was going to draw a big, black (gang insignia) over it," said Robert (Little Bugsy) Gonzales, 20. "Then I thought it over. It looks too good. It's art. When I was in school, I liked art."

The mural features four images of Latina angels playing musical instruments. Titled "Angels of the Music" by 12-year-old Mario Hernandez, the work was introduced to the community Saturday afternoon with a little pomp and circumstance.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman-elect Jackie Goldberg dedicated the mural at Sunset Boulevard and Descanso Drive as the artists stood by. Neighborhood youngsters, like Mario, who worked on the mural for two weeks, were not to be upstaged by the gangbangers.

Full of giddy excitement, Mario and his siblings, twin sister Maria, and Oscar, 10; and Michael Camacho, 12, and his brother Omar, 7, were among the youngsters who showed up June 26 to claim certificates, provided by one of the neighbors, for their artistic contribution. And free pizza didn't hurt.

"They are as beautiful as the (real) angels playing music," said Mario, beaming over the finished work. Maria said the angel on the left was modeled after her.

Oscar said he would challenge any taggers who dare deface the mural by saying: "Why do you paint that on? We're going to tell Annie."

That would be Annie Sperling, the Silver Lake artist who designed the mural and worked with the neighborhood volunteers. In a show of appreciation and to mark the mural's unveiling, the children washed Sperling's car and painted her a cardboard box to store her art supplies.

The grand orchestrator of the community effort was Tim Hepworth, a member of the Silver Lake Improvement Assn.

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