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New coat is costly

May 01, 2008|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles artist Kent Twitchell has settled his lawsuit against the U.S. government and 11 other defendants for painting over his six-story mural "Ed Ruscha Monument," painted on the side of a federal government-owned downtown building, for $1.1 million.

The settlement, disclosed Wednesday, is believed to be the largest awarded under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act or the California Art Preservation Act, both of which prohibit desecration, alteration or destruction of certain works of public art without giving the artist 90 days' notice to allow the artist the option of removing the artwork.

"It was a tough fight," Twitchell said in an interview Wednesday. "I'm just sort of in shock and relief over it all."

The U.S. government will pay $250,000 of the settlement. The other defendants are contractors and subcontractors responsible for managing and maintaining the building at 1031 S. Hill St., at Olympic Boulevard, which houses the Los Angeles Jobs Corps Center.

Art consultants have said it still may be possible to restore the mural, a portrait of artist Ed Ruscha that was created between 1978 and 1987 and painted over in June 2006. However, both Twitchell and his attorney, William Brutocao of the Pasadena law firm Sheldon Mak Rose & Anderson, said that restoring the artwork at its current location is not a viable option.

"I could conceivably go up and repaint it, and they could say, 'Guess what, you've got three months to remove it,' " Twitchell said.

Said Department of Labor spokesman David James, "While DOL was initially unaware of the damage, appropriate persons within DOL soon became aware of the loss and DOL acted promptly and responsibly to attempt to resolve the situation."

Under the terms of the agreement, the artist has until June 2009 to decide what to do with the mural. "Maybe I remove portions of it. I thought of the hands and the head because they are most intricate" and re-create the rest, he said. "And then I still have all my original cartoons for the body, the entire body and all the shadows; I could duplicate those exactly. I could even duplicate those in a smaller size. Anything could happen."

Although Twitchell said that some of the defendants in the case deplored the damage to the mural, he called the current site "a hostile location."

Currently, Twitchell is halfway through the re-creation of another of his well-known Los Angeles murals: the 1974 work "Old Lady of the Freeway," alongside the Hollywood Freeway, which was painted out by a billboard company in 1986. Twitchell is repainting it on an outside wall of the Viva Gallery in Sherman Oaks.

Twitchell has mixed feelings about creating murals in Los Angeles. "What's really discouraging about most public art is the way that, in this city of ours, spray paint vandalism has kind of taken over the streets," he said. "What was once the mural capital is now the graffiti capital -- although I don't call it graffiti, I call it spray paint vandalism. We cannot coexist."

Added Twitchell, "Ironically, the city was actually in the process of cleaning spray paint off the Ed Ruscha mural when it was destroyed."

Pat Gomez, a public art manager for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, said she was happy to hear that "the artists' rights have been recognized in this way. We hope that settlements such as this help get the word out to other property owners that these are important rights that need to be acknowledged through proper notice."

Twitchell believes that these legal safeguards are necessary in the public art arena. "Without laws, we're not nice to each other; we try to beat the other guy out at the stop sign," he said. "Every law I can think of is to enforce good manners -- it keeps us civil."

The Visual Artists Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act, he says, fall into that "civil" category: "I'd be against a law that said you can't paint out a mural ever; I'd be against that as a public artist," he said. "But the law as it is written is really reasonable."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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