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Eva Cockcroft; Venice Muralist Who Used Art to Explore Social Themes

April 09, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eva S. Cockcroft, a muralist who depicted social themes including the dignity of labor and racial unity on walls from Germany to Los Angeles, has died. She was 62.

Cockcroft, who also taught art, died April 1 in Los Angeles of breast cancer.

Her final mural was "Homage to Siqueiros," an East Los Angeles reconstruction of the Mexican artist's mural titled "America Tropical." Siqueiros' work was considered controversial, and had been obscured by whitewash for 50 years until Cockcroft and muralist Alessandra Moctezuma recreated it last year.

Cockcroft was also lead artist on the 540-foot-long mural titled "Earth Memory" near Belmont High School in downtown Los Angeles. Painted in 1996, the mural represents the history of the universe.

"Public art in general gives a neighborhood an identity, creates beauty and something for people to see as they walk by," Cockcroft told The Times during her work on the Belmont mural. "In this case it's sort of fun and educational. It's not a terribly serious mural. It doesn't have any political content, although some people might consider evolution to be a political statement.

"But we consider it just the kind of science that's taught in the schools in the United States," she said. "What I like to see is public art that relates to the people in the community, that is something they want and they understand."

Before moving to Los Angeles in 1989, Cockcroft created murals in New Jersey and New York City. Among them was her homage to French Impressionist Georges Seurat in upper Manhattan, which she titled "La Grande Jatte in Harlem." Instead of the white Parisians strolling in the park of Seurat's masterpiece, Cockcroft painted the black residents of Harlem.

Although most of her work was on outside walls, Cockcroft also created large paintings and drawings of the scenes near her Venice Beach studio. A selection of those pieces was exhibited last year as "Working Lives" at A Shenere Velt Gallery in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles.

Those displayed works, a Times critic wrote, "showcase her ongoing commitment to the experience of ordinary working people. Cockcroft's large, inviting paintings throb with color and motion; there's something happening in nearly every inch of these generous canvases."

Born in Vienna, Cockcroft was brought to the United States as an infant when her parents fled the Nazi takeover. She studied art at Cornell and Rutgers universities, and began painting murals in New Jersey in 1972.

In later years, she painted murals in Germany and Mexico along with others in the United States.

An expert on as well as creator of murals, Cockcroft coauthored "Toward a People's Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement," published first in 1972 and in a second edition last year.

She wrote several articles in art journals and taught art history and studio art at Cal State Long Beach and UC Irvine.

Cockcroft is survived by her father, Dr. Otto Sperling; her brother, Dr. George Sperling; three sons, Ben, Eric and Peter; her companion, Bruce Snyder, and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled at 2 p.m. May 1 at the Social and Public Art Resource Center, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice.

Donations in the artist's memory may be sent to the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, 6120 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90044.

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