Photos by DABS MYLA, Nicolassa Galvez, and Brian Addison.
When I talked to David Van Patten about the sad removal of Pow! Wow! founder and artist Jasper Wong’s mural being removed in the East Village, we agreed upon one thing: art is a luxury in Long Beach—and unlike Los Angeles, where art is being created and commissioned at rates that are jealousy-inducing, Long Beach has to cherish and protect the free art it has.
In that sense, Long Beach is different when it comes to its art on the streets; it is vehemently protected—and it is therefore making Long Beach home to one of the world’s finest outdoor museums.
With DABS MYLA—the Australian graffiti couple who made LA their home—adding a third mural to their Long Beach collection, it proves that our museum is only expanding. This mural in Bixby Knolls, located on the west side of Long Beach Blvd. just north of Bixby Rd., joins their DTLB mural off of the west side of Linden Avenue between 1st and Broadway, completed in 2012 after the pair also did a live mural at that year’s AGENDA show at the Convention Center, and their collaborative mural with Craola and Tyke Witness in the small empty lot known as A LOT on Pine Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets.
Opposite that collaborative piece in A LOT? The place where Mayor Robert Garcia posed with LA-based graffiti guru and artist Jaime “Vyal” Reyes (aka VYAL ONE) to take a picture in front of the artist’s completed mural in DTLB—a sign if any that Long Beach’s perception of street art has officially steered away from being solely considered tagging and has moved into the idea that it indeed an art worth supporting.
Even more, there is no question that out city, particularly DTLB, is becoming one of the region’s biggest outdoor museums. (Yes, even more than DTLA.)
Firstly, while we will not downsize the impact of Pow! Wow! (which we’ll get into in a bit), let’s start with the pre-Pow! Wow! impact of DTLB becoming a home for influential contemporary muralists and artists.
One block over from of VYAL’s mural, sits Brazilian artist Flip’s mural on the south wall of MADhaus. Mainly a surrealistic take on Asian culture and influences, the piece also definitively highlights the influence of the pixação graffiti that pervaded Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo during the 60s and eventually had risen from the dead during the 80s after the art form became nothing but a specter during the 70s.
Pantonio’s mural for the Aquarium of the Pacific.
While we’re in the East Village, take a small jump one street down and you’ll find Belgian artist Chase’s mural that he actually painted over his old mural. Found on Alamo Court, the mural beneath it was Chase’s panopticon-like eyes in varying shapes, sizes, and colors; his newer piece is one that is more focused: a heart-shaped pair of hands with blood-red eyes filled inside, a nod to the gang war between the Blood and Crips that riddled LA during the 90s.
And literally across the street in the same alley? A mural by Long Beach-based artist Zach Howard (who also happened to do the awesome Long Beach-centric mural inside DLTB’s Renaissance lobby, complete with hints of current and past Long Beach icons from The Queen Mary to the old Nu-Pike amusement area to bikes). Who doesn’t like a swimming elephant?
This is just a small dabble of Long Beach’s growing collection of street art.
All free. All accessible.
Dragon76 painting his piece just north of 1st at Long Beach Blvd. for Pow! Wow! 2016.
And then came Pow! Wow! Long Beach.
Nearly seven years ago in the warehouse-filled Kaka’ako district of Honolulu, a young Jasper Wong saw an incredible opportunity to create a spectacle that harkened more to the power of humans rather than the excessiveness of human partying. Coachella, FYF, and SXSW he was not seeking. He was creating what would soon become a phenomenon that the art world could not ignore. This is POW! WOW!
Eschewing the antics driven by all-too-pop-driven events where the partying is slowly eclipsing the art, Wong wanted to bring together his beyond cool friends as “an excuse to make an area better with art.” We are talking talented street artists that are beyond respected in their own right, from James Jean to Ekundayo, Wu Yue to Will Barras.
And thanks to a partnership with Long Beach’s interTrend, he brought it to Long Beach—specifically DTLB.
James Jean and Tristan Eaton? They share the north wall of the Varden Hotel on Pacific between 3rd and 4th Streets, of which Eaton’s mural is a wonderfully colorful homage to the iconic 1937 photograph by Margaret Bourke-White, depicting a group of American black men and women waiting for food and relief in Kentucky after a flood disaster.
“The billboard behind them makes this photograph an ironic symbol of inequality in America,” Eaton wrote. “Unfortunately, this still resonates today. From Wall Street to your local Police Department, there is still major prejudice and obscene injustice towards minorities and people of lower income. They party on the top while we sweat on the bottom. I hope my mural captures some of the falsehoods of the American Dream and the reality of the American nightmare.”
Low Bros and Jeff Soto? Their work—spanning the same wall but not sharing directly—sit along Seaside Way underneath an overpass at the entrance to the Convention Center.
LA-based Benjie Escobar’s floating pizza and sushi rolls was on the backside of the now-completed Edison residential tower; now, Dragon76’s mural is to be found there—proof that part of the beauty of street art lies in the fact that it is ephemeral.
Aaron De La Cruz painted the entire ground of Park(d) Plaza in the East Village on 4th between Elm & Linden (and introduced colors outside of the plaza’s iconic yellow) while across the street to the south, in Frontenac Court, sits Bumblebee’s mural. On the west wall of Berlin/Fingerprints Music, a skater kid with his pup looks into the sunset, complete with a Long Beach State lid. Joining the pairing of dudes is French provocateur and Lady of the Graffiti Fafi, whose flower’n’cutout mural on the north side of 4th on the same block offers a different aspect of street art—oh wait, never mind, it was taken down because someone didn’t get it.
Long Beach’s own Jeff McMillan’s mural can be found at the ground floor entrance to the Hyatt Regency off of Pine Avenue (and added another in the outdoor lobby of the Westin for Pow! Wow! 2016).
This then prompted a flood of non-Pow! Wow! associated art to invade the city: Drew Merritt and Erick Guadarrama each took a wall of the Packard Building, with Merritt painting his iconic female face, this one of actress Taya Rogers, across a giant wall while Guadarrama gave honor to Mexican powerhouses Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Pow! Wow! Long Beach representative and artist John Hall partnered with lettering master Howdy and took over the alleyway on the west-facing wall of Irish pub Gallagher’s in Bluff Heights to honor Hall’s trip to Mexico.
Jose Loza’s 12 Steps at Intercity Fellowship Hall at Cherry and 59th in North Long Beach was completed in May of last year, with the placement of the mural benefits the community by displaying the idea of hope as a replacement to the vandalism that once occurred in the location, according to the Arts Council.
I can go and on and on… Especially following Pow! Wow!’s 2016 year.
But maybe, you should find some for yourself. After all, it’s free. It’s outdoors. And it’s worth every second.