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It's got a home for now

July 22, 2007|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

A New York muralist strolling through Santa Monica's Palisades Park a few years ago was "struck by a paradox." The lush cliff-top park, with its allure for joggers, nature lovers and tourists, observed visiting artist Arnie Charnick, was also a refuge for ragged down-and-outers, sprawled out under the palms.

"It was pretty obvious to me," Charnick says now, "that a lot of homeless try to get to this park because the weather's good all year round; it's so green and it's right at the beach."

Charnick, a veteran East Village painter whose large-scale works are mounted in commercial buildings and other public spaces in New York, could relate. In 2004, he had hit a wall professionally and was staying with a friend in Santa Monica, hoping to find work on the West Coast.

Jarred to realize that he wasn't so very far from fate's slippery slope himself, he created "Gloom With a View," a vivid, 4-foot-by-24-foot panorama now on display through Sept. 1 in Santa Monica Place's Community Focus Gallery.

Reminiscent of the figurative murals of Depression-era WPA works, the painting shows 15 men and women in the foreground, recumbent on green grass. Blankets conceal most faces; one of four military veterans, identified through clothing and symbols, shades his head under his wheelchair. In the background, oblivious figures frolic on the beach and pier.

Charnick painted the mural on a dozen 2-foot-by-4-foot birch panels. When galleries here weren't interested and work picked up on the East Coast several weeks later, he stored the pieces in his daughter's Santa Monica garage and returned to New York. Three years later, the mural sparked the interest of community-oriented Santa Monica Place.

Charnick's work captures Palisades Park, says the mall's marketing manager, Ashley Walkley, who is active in homeless issues. "It rings true and it evokes a lot of emotion. The homeless are people; they're part of our community."

Charnick's "fantasy" now, he says, is that a sponsor will buy the mural and donate it to a permanent public space.


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