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Another Jewel for the Mural Capital of the World

In Echo Park, the Foothills Are Alive With Color

September 15, 2002|ABEL SALAS

Approaching the intersection of Echo Park Avenue and Sunset Boulevard these days is like opening a box of glowing gemstones. The spectacular new mural that adorns the prenatal and postnatal care center on the northeast corner emits a neighborly luminescence that's visible for blocks. Lush lotus leaves painted on the clinic's roll-up doors give way to the mural's focal point, a radiant earth mother figure extending around the building from its corner edge. Over her heart, a flame glimmers amid the petals of a lotus blossom--a salute to the giant lotuses that bloom each year at Echo Park Lake only blocks away. The figure is joined by scenes of community life rendered in bright hues and tawny earth tones.

A year and a half in the making, "Sculpting Another Destiny" was completed in April at the behest of the city of Los Angeles under a federal "Targeted Neighborhood Initiative" grant. The title and images are the work of Ricardo Mendoza, who received the commission after answering a solicitation issued by the office of then-Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. Mendoza says a chief inspiration was Central American poet Claribel Alegria, whose work often addresses social justice issues. "I read a line where she talks about sculpting a new destiny," says Mendoza, 40, who associates the mural's imagery with the "river of life" and the "sacred fire." Mendoza, who was reared in Pennsylvania and Costa Mesa, says he executed his design with the help of eight or nine others, from established artists to local kids.

Though Mendoza set up shop in a downtown warehouse during the early '80s and graduated from the Otis Art Institute, mural painting became a calling only gradually. His post-teen slacker phase included a couple of days assisting artist Judy Baca on the world's longest mural, "The Great Wall of Los Angeles" along the Tujunga Wash flood control channel in Van Nuys. "I was 19 and thought they were nuts. It was the middle of summer in the Valley."

In the last decade or so, Mendoza's work has appeared on walls in Long Beach, Wilmington and, more recently, Silver Lake, at Councilman Eric Garcetti's Sunset Boulevard field office. He was also commissioned by the nonprofit Social and Public Art Resource Center to paint a mural in Canoga Park. This spring, HBO ordered a 50-by-10-foot mural for the promotion of "Real Women Have Curves," a new film adapted from the play by Josefina Lopez.

But the Garcetti office mural and the new work in Echo Park (which has already appeared in a video by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) resonate more deeply for the artist. With property values rising in the area, public art often contends with bureaucratic hurdles and upscale homeowner oversight committees, Mendoza says, adding that Angelenos often forget that L.A.'s status as a world-class city owes partly to the 25-year-plus art-making tradition that made its reputation as "mural capital of the world."

At Sunset and Echo Park, however, there's no lack of appreciation. Basking in the glow, perhaps, the former Pacific Alliance Medical Center has recently changed its name. Mendoza plans to add the new signage to the mural in the coming months: Sunshine Medical Clinic.

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