Hosting the Olympics in Los Angeles thirty years ago was immensely exciting, but for me the excitement hit as I opened the Olympic Arts Festival calendar and saw the world-class murals by ten L.A. artists created for the occasion; Los Angeles' own road to Olympia as experienced by the Greeks in 776 B.C. It is with pride that MCLA in collaboration with the Lapis Press has created a collection of unforgettable images of these historic murals that inspire athletes, artists, and audiences worldwide.
I started MCLA with Kent Twitchell to help protect and document great public mural art for the sake of the artists and the city of Los Angeles. And for the sheer fun of doing it. It's still fun. And this special edition makes it clear: Those 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals are proof positive that great art can survive in the open where all of the people can see it any day of the week. These murals are gems in the crown of L.A.'s cultural legacy, you'd better believe it. Makes me proud to say that this is my home town.
1984 OLYMPIC FREEWAY MURALS: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
The Lapis Press is pleased to support the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA) and their dedication to conserving the rich and colorful heritage of murals throughout our city. To commemorate the 30th anniversary and restoration of the 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals, the Lapis Press is honored to work with the MCLA to create a limited edition boxed portfolio. The edition features exclusively commissioned images by acclaimed Los Angeles photographer John Humble documenting the six recently restored murals. Archival photographs of the five Olympic Freeway Murals no longer extant complete this historic set.
John Humble’s unique eye for the Los Angeles landscape from the perspective of the driver’s seat made him the premier choice to photograph the six restored murals for this edition. His body of work fittingly captures the city’s spirit through the circulatory system of freeways and roads. Humble was careful to frame the elements of each mural that make them intrinsic to the civic landscape, overcoming the compositional and physical challenges of the sites while staying true to the experience of the viewer. A cheerful delivery truck cruises serendipitously through Frank Romero’s Going to the Olympics amid palm trees and bumper to bumper L.A. traffic; Hitting the Wall by Judy Baca bursts forth from oppressive grey concrete and steel overpasses; the iconographic Lita Albuquerque Monument facing Jim Morphesis Monument by Kent Twitchell are framed to underscore the dialogue that exists between the art and the driver. The photographs in this edition aptly merge with John Humble’s bold oeuvre that has so eloquently documented Los Angeles.
The remaining five Olympic Freeway Murals required an archival approach since they were destroyed before MCLA could save them. We are grateful to Rod Sykes, Alonzo Davis, Richard Wyatt, Will Herrón and Sheila Schoonhoven (Terry’s widow), who were able to provide original transparencies from the 80’s. Captured prior to the digital age, these images have the warmth from another era. Their five prints for the edition are presented on a distinct rag paper with a warmer tone and were printed with a larger border to suggest with an elegant preciousness, the distance of time.
The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles was established as a non-profit in 1987 by a group of artists, patrons, and civic leaders committed to documenting, preserving and restoring the murals as works of public art. MCLA also maintains an ongoing Los Angeles Mural History database of muralists, murals and the neighborhoods that they enliven. In 2013, MCLA was instrumental in lifting the ban on the city’s public murals, revitalizing the Los Angeles Mural Ordinance to allow artists to register their projects as mural art. To Los Angeles, the “mural capital of the world”, few civic gestures will prove as impactful to the aesthetics and identity of this city.
The proceeds from the sale of this portfolio benefit the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and the good work they continuously do to preserve our civic heritage of murals throughout the city.
Robert Fitzpatrick, Director of 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, on Los Angeles' Olympic Freeway Murals 30 years later.
Mayor Tom Bradley used the Games to break down barriers among communities and their disparate social, ethnic and economic groups. He understood that sports are amazingly democratic and welcoming. He also understood that the Olympics provided an opportunity to welcome new audiences to the cultural riches of the city.
When I was asked to create the Olympic Arts Festival I requested complete artistic freedom, an adequate budget and political protection. Mayor Bradley and Peter Ueberroth, the head of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC), said yes but stipulated that it had to be good, welcoming, and different from anything else that had been done in prior Olympics.
The 10-week festival included 424 performances, exhibitions and events featuring 145 performing arts companies with 1,500 artists from 18 countries. Over one million guests attended the performing arts events and 24 visual arts exhibitions.
Thirty years later memories still linger of our art mitzvah, our coming of age as a cultural capital. But only two physical reminders remain: The Olympic Gateway at the Coliseum created by Robert Graham and seven of the eleven Los Angeles Murals along our downtown freeways.
I take great pride in having brought Pina Bausch, Giorgio Strehler, the Royal Opera of Covent Garden and many others for their first visit to the United States. I take even greater pride, however, in having commissioned the murals allowing the rest of the world to discover a uniquely Los Angeles art form.
Judy Baca dragged me through a lot of back streets and alleys and helped me learn a new visual language. But after months crisscrossing the city looking for locations to place the murals, I realized that I had spent more time on the freeways than in any museum. Those freeways had to be the quintessntially Los Angeles place for public art.
Judy thought it was disrespecful of the artists and threatened to drop me in the Los Angeles River. Numerous government officials said it was dangerous and impossible. In the end people realized that such a project spoke profoundly about the nature of our city and gave a new definition to public art.
The project would never have come into being, however, were it not for Alonzo Davis and Brockman Gallery Productions. He selected, commissioned and supported implementation. He was a passionate and articulate partner who helped transform a crazy pipe dream into an amazing gift for everyone who lives in or visits Los Angeles.
There are two images that have stayed on my retina for the 30 years since those Olympics. They define for me the experience of living in Los Angeles: Kent Twitchell Jim Morphesis Monument and Lita Albuquerque Monument Jim, hands raised up, looking across the ten lanes of freeway at Lita, who returns his gaze. I used to read it as a parable of separation and longing, but on a recent visit in April, 2014 I saw it as two individuals discovering one another.
Were it not for the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and the artists themselves, the murals, which had been vandalized and painted over, would not be coming back to life. They woud be footnotes to an article in the newspaper morgue of the Los Angeles Times.
Director of North American Development, FIAC
Director, 1984 Olympic Arts Festival