Men Fear Death, as Children Fear to Go in the Dark


We are here to mourn the death of a historic 101 landmark (no, I am not referring to that stupid, awful house on the Cahuenga Pass).

I am referring to the mural L.A. Freeway Kids on the 101 by the Los Angeles and Main overpasses. The other day, I drove down the 101 and noticed the sterile gray covering what used to be vibrant colors and moving children. Or rather, sterile gray covering graffiti covering vibrant colors and moving children.

I’ll be the first to admit: I like graffiti. I know plenty of graff artists both here and in the bay. I’ve been known to dabble in it myself, just enough to give me street cred, not enough to make me legit. But I hate tagging, which is not the creative transformation of a blank wall or a railroad car. I hate the sharpie-scrawled urinations of a dog marking its territory, announcing little more than “Kilroy was here.” Today, I hate it even more.

I always saw the 101 murals as symbols of my childhood. I was 3 years old when most of them were painted. 1984 was a big year for LA. The city tried to make itself presentable to our international visitors. I still have my stuffed “Sam the Eagle” mascot at my parent’s house. When my parents started taking my brother and I to Universal Studios, this meant a drive up the 101. LA Freeway Kids was not my favorite. My favorite was what I called the “Greeks in Space” mural. This too has been defaced over the years, and I swear to you it is not an exaggeration to say that my heart is heavy with grief at the thought that it too will soon be buried in gray.


Photo by Ruth Wallach, March 1997

19 thoughts on “Men Fear Death, as Children Fear to Go in the Dark”

  1. So sad to hear this. My fave too was the Greeks from space mural. On the kids mural I always wondered why the toddler holding a basketball had on a UCLA shirt(Bruins), I mean is’nt this area USC’s turf?? We’re the artist from UCLA?

  2. I heard once that the city needs permission from the artist to retouch defaced murals. Because this process takes a long time, taggers are more likely to hit a mural, since their tag will stay visible far longer than a blank wall (which can just get repainted).

    If you drive down the 101, you will see plenty of gray space left blank, but tags all over the murals… the two “photographers” under the overpass at the 101/110 transition are hidden behind layers of graff.

    these fuckers don’t even have the decency of writing on the gray. these assholes deliberately tag over legitimate art.

    PS: tagging is not a legitimate art. some graffiti might be, but the shit you see on the 101 murals is like vomit.

  3. Whether its artistic or not is completely irrelevent, IMHO. If you’re painting over someone elses work or property without permission, you’re a vandal.

    On the point about vandals hitting murals, because they might stay up longer, is a valid one. I’m actually working on a similar post dealing with this issue directly, with a creative twist on dealing with it.

  4. The fact some in our society want to debate whether graffiti is vandalism or not is an additional reason there’s even more graffiti than there’d otherwise be.

  5. I’ll be the first to admit: I like graffiti. I know plenty of graff artists both here and in the bay. I’ve been known to dabble in it myself, just enough to give me street cred, not enough to make me legit. But I hate tagging, which is not the creative transformation of a blank wall or a railroad car.

    Sigh. The issue that may someday separate me from my beloved metroblogging . . . So, you’ve been out tagging up stuff too? But it was alright because it helped out a sad, blank railroad car or wall? Sorry, but that doesn’t change anything. If you painted something onto a surface with the permission of the surface’s owner, then more power to you.

    To try to draw a line between “graffiti” and “tagging” is a nice way of making perps feel less-bad about breaking the law. But painting on something that isn’t yours is still wrong. And how does a community take a hardline against one and not the other? “Street art” is meaningful to its community, as is tagging to its community. I am frequently in awe over the viewpoint discrimination that allows many MBloggers and readers to decide that this wall art is okay but this one isn’t.

    A mural, painted with the cities permission is different from anything painted without permission. Once you remove permission, it’s all the same. Just because a tag is cute or artistically accomplished, doesn’t make anymore legally or morally okay.

  6. CD wrote: “Sigh. The issue that may someday separate me from my beloved metroblogging.”
    Change the channel its a free country. Diversity here is what is important.

  7. sgvgoofball, yes, I could just choose to ignore that with which I disagree. but then nothing changes right? so long as i blind myself to things, they won’t exist in my world, so it’s all good, right?

    “diversity” is often used as a comforting cover for moral ambiguity. i’d prefer not to use it as such, however. i’d prefer for metroblogging not to be represented solely by those who think “street art” is fine and dandy. i don’t think it is. so i’m going to keep saying so.

  8. Sadly this mural NEEDED to come down. The last straw I bet was the fucker, or fuckers, that throw up the HUGE tags with some power spray paint device. It covers the whole wall and you can’t even read the words. It is happening on huge walls all around this area. Sucks.

  9. Ironically, a blank wall is even more appealing to taggers than a mural.

    My first thought too.

  10. Ohhh! So sad! It’s been a while since I drove this stretch of the 101 so I had no idea. I used to think the chubby, brown-skinned kid at the end of the mural looked like one of my favorite uncles. :(

  11. None of your graffiti artist friends tag? They only do murals and pieces? How’d they get their name up?

    Tagging is an essential part of graffiti. If you don’t like it, you don’t really like graffiti.

  12. TNAS: Don’t be ridiculous. Thats like saying if you don’t like TV you don’t really like movies.

    Darleene: I actually used to think the chubby brown skinned kid looked like ME as a toddler… although I was pasty white.

  13. CD does have a point: the difference between graffiti and tagging is purely arbitrary, as is the definition of “legitimate art”. But I disagree that resorting to a legal or “moral” clause is any better. Billboards and corporate advertising are much, much worse than spray can stuff, though it’s protected by the veneer of legality when it shouldn’t be. There are ways to deal with unwanted spraying of walls, but it requires people engaging in the community rather than just waiting for the authorities to do the work for you. Much more work, but often very effective.

  14. We have to get these kids who like tagging and put them in guerilla art college. Show them how to make money creating guerilla art which would of course include classes on grant-writing and outlandish bios.

    Outlandish Bio 101:

    “Your parents got in a fight once?” Professor Molyneux.

    “Yeah, one time my mom got mad at my dad because he bought the regular Doritos instead of the fat free, because she had put him on a diet,” Student tagger, future guerilla artist.

    “Ok, lets go with that,” Professor Molyneux.

    “Your father beat your mother and all you had to eat were Doritos,” Professor Molyneux.

    “It didn’t really happen like that,” Student tagger, future guerilla artist.

    “Yes it did. You just don’t have a clear memory of it, because your uncle touched you in a special spot,” Professor Molyneux.

    You will be a bestselling artist, because the right bio can help anyone sell anything.

    The motto of the guerilla marketing school of marketing guerilla art.

  15. My cousin painted that mural. Its a shame. We are deeply saddend by lee Baca’s stupidy. I cant believe they let those taggers win..

  16. As an ex-eastLos project kid who used to engage in graffiti, and spent years and an immense amount of energy transforming into a productive member of society, I must admit that almost all taggers/writers are self conscious assholes with serious emotional problems. Either they come from some OK middle class background and have issues becuase of it and want to impress/be the ghetto kids, or they’re from the hood and are a mixed bag of dysfunction minus the balls to join a real gang. I don’t know, graffiti is a different monster now than when I was in it (90s), back then it was more of a yard culture, murals were still respected and the city did not spend billions of dollars a year cleaning it from every nook and cranny.

    Today it seems like there is more of destructive nature to graff, as places for your pieces to “run” began to shrink the culture of bombing/tagging (over peices and productions) took over in full throttle. It seems like youth are taking out their personal issues in destruction of the city (as many of them put it), which I can kind of see making some sense to a sad kid from Pico Union or encino whose parents don’t pay them enough ettention. Back in my time the personal issues were more vented through style, the social aspect (which is still strong), and artistically adding to your shitty environment (not to say tagging helped, but there was more of an artistic focus).

    I know plenty will shit on this statement, but it is coming from an insider on the subject who has little tolerance for much of the ignorance and bullshit passing off as graffiti nowadays: Graffiti and specifically tagging and outright vandalism exploded as the city began painting over it in places where it should have stayed, yards (empty lots and train/industrial areas) and other dead spaces fell and the illicits subculture began to focus more on quickness and widespread destruction much more than style and reputation/skill. I dont know if creating these long lost yards again will help, but the eradication of places for legal (or just sitting) graffiti has done nothing but aid in the widespread proliferation of more vandalism.

    I am saddened by the loss of those murals, who the fuck allowed that and why has no shit storm come down about it? BTW, I paint murals now ( in neighborhoods around south and east LA and now ironically have to combat tagging all the time. The best method to make sure your mural stays up is to address tags ASAP, I have shit running in Compton, Pacoima, and in front of both East LA highschools that are untouched because I am diligent about keeping tags off my shit (writers used to do that with their nicer pieces in my time). We also use taggers and local gang members to do the murals, the gangs are actually the best abatement until the next generation gets drunk and acts stupid. While painting a mural in front of Roosevelt HS, some little tweakers joked about tagging my shit (and tagged a billboard next to my mural), but I’m a parent and was too tired to address them in proper hood fashion and get off my ladder and in their faces, so I laughed it off. Now they randomly tag my mural again and again, and I’d like to find them. if anyone knows who emer from TV is let me know, I call them transvestities crew when I see their ugly tags.

    I don’t know, graffiti is more gawdy and overcompensatory now, like loving the gotti kids (my wife’s armenian students adore them), being fat at walmart, being a blinged out brown/black kid, or being an unapologetic uber WASP with a Dubya sticker and a kid named chase or chance. It’s all about in your face brashness, maybe it’s the style of the times?

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