I painted this mural during the first corona virus lockdown whilst living in Los Angeles. Thankfully murals are quite an easy thing to social distance whilst doing, especially in LA where everything is so spread out there is zero foot traffic.
The wall is round the back of the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre in North Hollywood, Los Angeles.
I got the space from my improv coach Paul @TheRealStoriale – check out their comedy videos on TikTok @GossipBoyTV (and yes Paul I admit that TikTok is not just 13 year olds anymore).
Paul is involved in local council in NoHo and was running free improv classes, which I went to for a couple months. I LOVE improv, I had been going to watch it at UCB for a long time irl and online – it tickles me in a way other comedy like standup usually doesn’t. It was so fun having a go myself, and taught me a lot about tapping into childlike playfulness and imagination, about letting go of fear of failure and imaginary restrictions, and just having silly fun. Its not something I naturally excel at or have much experience in, so its also enlivening to throw myself outside my comfort zone.
So cus of his local council involvement Paul had access to a lot of walls in NoHo that wanted murals, so it was a lucky coincidence for us to meet. I already did one at the improv theatre Avery-Shreiber, and this Ru Paul mural was the next one. Its an example of how you never know where opportunities will come from, even from seemingly unrelated adventures – so I think as an artist its so important to put yourself out there, to live life, and to be bold with showing people your artwork. I could have easily come and left class without ever asking Paul about his life and non-improv activities, or I could’ve been too shy to put myself forward to paint the walls. Again its not something that comes naturally to me, I’ve had to work towards that point. I didn’t paint murals for months on end early on because I was too afraid to knock on doors and ask to paint them. I think with art its easy to have this mentality that if your work is good, the opportunities will come to you – like you put it on instagram, and everything should follow. But in my experience thats really not the case, and a sustainable art career growth is about continuing to put yourself out there every day, to knock on the doors and to make your own opportunities. Even now when I feel more established, if I stop knocking on doors the opportunities stop too. Artists are creative after all, so apply that creativity to making opportunity as much as to the artwork itself. This early fear for me definitely came from lack of confidence and experience – for most people you slowly lower the fear and gain experience/confidence over many years, but if you face the fear head on, you will save a lot of time by just doing it now. I think there’s also a fear that the work isn’t good enough, so the fact that opportunities aren’t falling in your lap or the possible rejection from putting yourself out there will confirm the fear that it isn’t good enough. And this again is a fear that can be faced head on, rather than used to stall oneself for no benefit. I mentioned in my last post how features in publications do not necessarily come from merit, but other forces like paid ads. And this is relevant to this opportunity discussion too. Not just walls come from knocking on doors, but also features in magazines, interviews on podcasts, collaborations with other artists. Some of these come to me, but the majority I have knocked on the door myself, and once the door opens, no one else knows that, they just see the open door and the result. So if you want to be on someone’s podcast, message them and ask to be on it! Its really that simple.
Anyway back to the actual focus of this blog post, the mural.
So I had creative freedom from the theatre to do whatever I liked, which is always good. I had a few different ideas for combining drag with corona virus messaging, which I did most of during my last weeks in LA. Corona had taken over the world and everyone’s constant thoughts, and the BLM protests hadn’t happened yet (they started in the middle of me painting this mural), and I had just been doing the corona project with Art Share LA, painting the wooden boards on closed down businesses, to beautify space during corona and make it look less apocalyptic. LA always looks apocalyptic to me, but whether thats the city itself or that Hollywood movie makers often take inspiration from their back doors, so my Hollywood-influenced conception of apocalypse is essentially LA. Similar thing happened when I finally went to Beverly Hills – I expected so much lavishness, due to countless movies constantly using it as the benchmark for luxury – and it was so banal. Sure there were fancy stores like in every airport, but that was it. Whoever is the brand manager for LA I want them working for me. I think this plays into the common idea that LA, and Hollywood especially, is an illusion more so than an actual place. Damn I digressed again…
So, this mural is Ru Paul Charles – host of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, with the slogan ‘Rona, Sashay Away’. Rona being internet slang for Corona Virus, and Sashay Away being Ru’s famous line to eliminate and send home a contestant from the tv show. Simple, but it made me laugh 🙂 I love the personification of inanimate objects (which is essentially my drag, I dress up as cigarettes and loafs of bread). So treating Corona Virus like a person just makes me chuckle. And of course, we all want to send her home, rather than her keeping us at home like she has been. The whole experience worldwide of corona has been so miserable and awful for everyone’s collective mental health, that I really wanted whatever content I put out about it to be something that is uplifting and inspiring. I saw so many murals from other artists just writing ‘Stay Home’ or ‘If you’re reading this, go home’, which I personally can’t stand. We all are being told all the time to stay home, we already know we are supposed to be home. Art can be so much more than just a negative public service announcement. And the people who aren’t listening to actual announcements and huge social pressure aren’t going to be convinced by your art. So all you’re doing is retelling a public what they already know, without adding anything positive or interesting to the space. Plus on top of that I find it incredibly hypocritical for an artist to spend however many hours/days on the street outside painting ‘Stay Home’, when they are clearly not themselves at home but are out on the street painting. Why should the rules not apply to you too then? It leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. So I still wanted to engage with corona as a topic, since its so all encompassing in everyones lives, but rather do something that I felt would be inspiring and joyful, whilst still retaining the need for us to take corona seriously as something harmful. I was inspired by a series in the UK by cancer charities that basically said ‘Fuck Cancer’, and had people talking about cancer as a person, like we are going to fight it physically. Cancer is an asshole. And that’s how I feel about Miss Rona – her drag is bad and she should sashay away already.
The honeycomb background is the same as on the judging panel on the show. Originally it was also pink, which I liked better, but Paul thought she was bald cus the wig colour and background pinks were too similar – so we changed it to this yellow for higher contrast. Other than that it was a really simple and easy process. My friend and fellow queer street artist @DivaDogLA came over to help me take silly interactive photos, pretending to be her necklace and earring. There were also many failed attempts to video me jumping and kicking her mouth so it looked like I was being spat out of her mouth haha.
Queer artist friend @JerelCardona also came by to chat and help me finish painting.
The face design is much simpler than I often do, just plain blue instead of multi-coloured and different textures. I had spent so long doing abstract portraits that around this time I started to get interested in more natural shapes and colours. I still painted him blue cus i was using the paint that I had left over from other projects, and natural skin tones have to be perfect and actually include lots of different ssubtle colours and layers which would’ve required buying a lot of new paint. So painting unnatural tones like blue is actually a lot easier than natural ones, to me.
I had access to the theatre inside with aircon, water and a bathroom – which was a lifesaver. So often the mural locations don’t have any amenities, and there might not be anything public nearby either. Murals use so many big and heavy materials that its very impractical to pack things up every time you need to leave for these things, but then without anyone else around they’re vulnerable to being stolen. So many times I’ve been effectively stuck at a wall far far beyond what is comfortable. How people expect me to paint 10+ hours per day for multiple days at a site without using the bathroom I have no idea, I’m sure they just don’t think about it so now I’ve learnt to bring it up beforehand. “Yes I’ll paint a mural there, but only if you have a toilet.” lol. Also running up and down ladders, throwing your arms around, carrying heavy things in the sun, especially somewhere as hot as LA, is physically exhausting. As you can see in the video I have this pop up gazebo cus many projects have no shade, so without it I’d be overheating fast. A muralist at a festival I painted at once described mural painting as the extreme sports of art for these reasons, and I agree! Except perhaps some performance artists I’ve seen who will literally destroy their own bodies for a performance.
This theatre had some furniture on the stage so I made myself laugh by sitting there to eat my lunch, imagining that I was performing an Andy Warhol-esque play to an audience of ghosts.
A radio by the backdoor was kept on playing loudly all day and night, because they said it stopped burglars. The year before they had someone break in through their roof. I climbed up there to sort out some hanging wires and saw where he’d gotten in. Also running around rooftops is fun.
A large black wire was hanging across the wall when I arrived. The theatre thought it electric as it came from the electricity pylon across the alley. So I started off trying to paint around the wire without touching it, as even touching the outside black insulation for electricity wires can transmit enough to kill you. Obviously that wasn’t gunna work, and I wasn’t getting killed, not even for Ru Paul. So I called up LA Works and to all of our surprise they had someone come out that same day! They nicely explained that it was just a communications wire so was safe, and showed me how to know which from the pylon is electric. But nevertheless that you should always call them rather than try to deal with it yourself, cus if you’re wrong, ya know, death.
Funnily this wasn’t the first time that I was in an ambigiously dangerous position with electricity cables. Painting the 50ft Valentina mural at Low Road City, Los Angeles, required going above electricity lines, which again the owners didn’t know were safe or not, so that time I made the design as simple as possible up top and stayed far away from them on the lift. Painting at Wide Open Walls in Sacramento, my walls were the street-facing side of an electricity power plants insulation walls – super thick walls designed to stop the huge amounts of electricity inside from jumping across the air. Big signs on my wall said ‘Danger: Death’ and don’t come near. Not only was I painting on this wall, but I had to paint right up to the top of it, meaning that I was peaking my head and equipment over the top of the wall that stops the electricity from jumping across at you and killing you, whilst I was standing on a huge metal lift (i.e. a massive conductor). I had a safety consultation with the power plant who told me to make sure I didn’t stick myself or anything like paint poles above the wall for this reason. I was painting there for 10 days and kind of forgot about it after the first couple, but reflecting back on it, that was dodgy af. The murals came out great though and spoiler alert I didn’t die.
Well done you’ve reached the end of another incredibly long mural story! Isn’t it amazing how many tangents can occur from such a simple thing as a painting on a wall.
Have a cookie!