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East Side Stories

Longtime muralist Wayne Alaniz Healy leads a tour through L.A.'s colorful history. Weekend Chat


Artist Wayne Alaniz Healy, a founding member of the East Los StreetScapers, one of the first groups of artists to begin the muralist movement in the 1970s, will be hosting a tour of the most famous murals on the East Side, sponsored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles.

Healy will discuss murals found along the side streets of East Los Angeles painted by such artists as Paul Botello, Willie Herron, Ernesto de la Losa and Eva Cockcroft. His tour comes at a time when city, county and state officials have been painting over many of the county's most famous murals in an aggressive policy of graffiti abatement.

Healy, 54, was raised in East Los Angeles and continues to live and paint there. Besides murals, the artist and the StreetScapers have moved into multimedia work such as sculpture and tile-making.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish with this tour?

Answer: I try to give a homeboy's view of the regional murals we will see. I am one of the founding fathers of the mural movement in East L.A. I tell folks that my family came to Boyle Heights in 1920--the equivalent of the Chicano Mayflower.

Q: Can you give me an example of what a "homeboy's" view would be?

A: On Brooklyn [now Cesar Chavez Avenue] and Soto [Street] there are a couple of murals. The one we did is at Payless shoes. There are some portraits there of my uncle Joe Alaniz and my cousin Danny--that was their shoeshine corner many years ago. I'm the first professional artist in my family, but my family has always been very creative. My Uncle Joe was my first art teacher. He was quite a guitarist. I grew up listening to boleros and so it was impossible for me to ignore [his Mexican heritage].

Q: Is it disappointing for you to see so many murals around Los Angeles that have been painted over because of graffiti-abatement efforts, or destroyed by taggers?

A: It certainly is a disappointment. We have done maintenance on some murals, but even doing maintenance is in regression because we are always chasing new jobs. [Artists] have to make a living. We have done some major restorations, though. The L.A. Conservancy has picked 12 murals to restore, including my 26-year-old Ramona Gardens mural [at 2731 Lancaster Ave.]. It is heartening to know that people care about the murals besides me.

Q: What would you like to tell graffiti-abatement officials and taggers about saving the murals?

A: It would be nice to say stop [destroying them]. To me when I see something like graffiti--it's kids putting themselves out there, begging for attention. In 1994 I did a project in Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights. The kids had really done some bad stuff and they ranged from ages 13 to 17. I had a captive audience, but we went and painted a mural there, and I got the feeling that a lot of them had never had the opportunity or initiative to do something constructive--to start with nothing and end up with something. I've given a lot of talks to youths. People ask how come I didn't go into gangs, but I tell them I was more afraid of my parents than the gangs. I saw these kids and I asked myself, where was mom and dad at the time when they were teetering on going this way or that way. I learn a lot from the students.

Q: What about graffiti-abatement officials?

A: I have not had any of my murals painted [over] by authorities. When there is graffiti, we try to clean it up right away--nip it in the bud. But in 1986, on 5th and Soto, my mural called "Ancient Energies" was destroyed by Shell Oil; they destroyed the wall it was on. The Public Art Preservation Act says that the artist has to be given the chance to remove it or take pictures of it before they destroy it. A teacher at Roosevelt High [across the street] told us about it, but it was too late to save it. So we sued. It went all the way to the California Supreme Court, and we won. At first the [lower] court found in favor of the company and so we appealed, and we won on appeal.

Q: Are murals still being painted in Los Angeles?

A: There are people still creating murals. There are different styles. Some of the graffiti murals are just astounding. They put one up and then someone will put one up that is equally astounding. I'm talking about the graffiti artists. There are so many areas of concrete in our city that I say let the kids have them. Let that be their gallery. I mean I don't want to see my car tagged or my front door tagged or churches tagged. I'm talking about paved-over things like the old tunnel near 2nd Street and Beverly--that could be like an art gallery.

Q: Are most of your fellow muralists from the '70s retired from the art?

A: Several of us have moved on. A substantial number of us have been accused of going mainstream. [The StreetScapers] have moved into different mediums. We have works in bronze, granite--architectural materials. We still paint murals and will continue to do so. The Slauson Metro Station hired us, but said no murals. Instead of getting annoyed with that we took that as an opportunity. So we made 96 panels--porcelain on steel--that give the history of the community and the color of the area in our piece called the "South Central Codex." And we also made a piece on the street level called the "Slauson Serenade"--how romantic, huh?


East L.A. Mural Bus Tour, Saturday, 9 a.m. Meet at the Federal Building, 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. $25 general admission; $20 for students, low income and Mural Conservancy members. Call (818) 487-0416.

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