Los Angeles Muralist Aims to Make a Big Mark

Brushstroke by brushstroke, muralist Robert Vargas is telling the story of this changing metropolis, using the facade of a 14-story downtown apartment building as his canvas.

Vargas suggests the massive painting, an homage to his hometown, was inevitable. 

He grew up in East Los Angeles “on a street called City View, and from my stoop, I had a clear sight line to the downtown L.A. skyline. So I think I was always destined to dream big and to paint big,” Vargas said. “I’m fulfilling my destiny.”

Vargas, of Mexican and Native American descent, began painting as a child. He studied at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, as well as New York’s Pratt Institute. His art has taken him from doing portraits on local streets to crafting scenes abroad — in Australia, Japan and, most recently, the United Arab Emirates. He showcases his work on an Instagram account that identifies him as “Artist based in Downtown Los Angeles, but for the world!”

The scale of Vargas’ painting has grown over time. 

His current mural stretches more than 5,500 square meters (6,600 square yards) — painted freehand, without a preliminary grid or stencils. He works from the kind of adjustable platform used by window washers.

Vargas started painting the mural this summer and expects to finish it in early 2018. He’s touting it, in numerous media interviews, as the largest done by a single artist. Guinness World Records has “received an application on Robert’s behalf, but we have not received any further evidence for the claim,” a spokeswoman told VOA in an emailed response. 

Hope, inclusion

Vargas’ mural depicts a multicultural metropolis.

“I want to convey a message of hope and inclusion, celebrating the diversity of Los Angeles,” the painter said.

His mural is ripe with symbolism, such as the image of a Native American girl.

“It’s really anchored by this Tongva girl — the original natives to inhabit the L.A. Basin,” Vargas said. Another figure will depict lightweight boxer Oscar De La Hoya, “foreshadowing the Olympics that are going to be here in 2028.”

De La Hoya won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and served on the committee that landed the future Summer Games for Los Angeles. Vargas will paint the boxer holding an Olympic torch. 

The crowning figures for the mural, called “Angeles,” will be three angels. Vargas described the inspiration for two of them: One “happens to be a homeless woman that I selected from the streets,” he said, explaining that he wanted to recognize residents who are losing ground in a gentrifying area. 

Another has a more intimate connection: “One of the angels is actually [representing] my mother, who introduced me to downtown Los Angeles as a kid.”

“I’m just really excited about painting something this big,” Vargas said, “in the heart of the city where I grew up.”

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