Highland Park has a new mural.
It is Crea mementos Majicos (Create Magical Moments), on the side of the Tinfoil Liquor and Grocery Store on Figueroa Street – a brightly painted mural with the community’s landmarks under a flying alebrije, a fantastical mystical creature that came to artist Soledad “Sol” Luongo in a dream.
“I paint what comes to me, and while I don’t paint to please, for this mural, I asked people what comes to their mind when they think of Highland Park.”
So, Ms. Luongo painted the fox (which could have been a coyote) seen running through the neighborhood with a tortilla in his mouth, a neighbor’s large fish named Rusty James, and many of the places that make up the Highland Park community: the Typewriter Store, the Highland Park Theater, the Gold Line juxtuposed against the 110 Pasadena Freeway, the hillsides, and Chicken Boy. She painted Frank’s logo with a camera crying in front of it “because the store was going away.”
Many of these images can be easily seen at a distance, but you have to take a close look at the mural to see the charm and humor inspired by slices of Highland Park life and urban legends.
There’s a UFO beaming down the words, “Now you know,” a rainbow for the no longer El Arco Iris Restaurant, parakeets and an LAPD ghettobird. There are also dichos, positive messages that she’s written tucked into the mural’s images.
It’s no surprise that Ms. Luongo would mix so many images and words. She’s also a published poet and rock-and-roll musician who expressed her passion for art very early as a young girl growing up in Montevideo, Uruguay. To this day, she’d like nothing better than to paint and play music all day long.
Crea mementos Majicos was her first outside “street” mural – and it was a long time coming. It took her and the management at Tinfoil several months to wade through city bureaucracy, including a hearing, before approval was granted to move forward.
And the wall itself was difficult to work on. Layers of graffiti covered over many years with layers of white paint “looked like thick globs of cake frosting,” said Ms. Luongo. The cement spaces between the bricks posed a challenge in making the image look cohesive. Standing on scaffolding while painting in the hot sun was no easy feat.
The joy came for Ms. Luongo when people passing by smiled and wanted to talk and said they were happy to see the mural going up. “One boy didn’t know what an alebrije was, so his father explained it to him, which was so nice to hear,” said Ms. Luongo.
The positive feedback was especially important after a threatening stranger came up to her one day, got into her face and angrily objected to the mural, claiming that it was linked to the area’s gentrification. She was also subjected to nasty online posts that even encouraged defacing the mural.
Renowned artist Joe Bravo, a strong advocate of public art and a leader last year in the silent vigil to mourn the loss of four whitewashed murals in Highland Park, recently took a look at the Crea mementos Magicos, expressing admiration for it and support for Ms. Luongo. “Anyone can stand in front of it and see something different,” said Mr. Bravo. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”
Mitch Durette, general manager of Tinfoil, was also pleased to see so much unexpected detail in the mural. He said the store had offers from Johnny Walker and other companies to place signage on their building. “The store could have made money,” said Mr. Durette, “but that didn’t feel right. We’re the corner store after all, and this mural is so much better. Just like the artist, the mural is beautiful and cool.”
Ms. Luongo, who painted the mural for free, painted a big Gracias to Highland Park at the top of the mural. She also put in thanks to Tinfoil and Los Javis, a tequila company, for paying for the paint and supplies. But to have the mural registered with the L.A. Department of Cultural Arts, those touches may need to be removed; otherwise, the mural could be viewed as advertising.
“I do think artists should be paid for their work,” said Ms. Luongo. “But I didn’t want to accept payment for this mural. This is a gift to Highland Park and the community.”