If you’ve ever found yourself circling around the Los Angeles Arts District for 20 minutes in search of a parking spot that is both affordable and near where you’re going, you’ve probably seen him.
An older white man with light gray hair, striking blue eyes and a red button-up shirt. He’s not standing on a street corner or outside a restaurant, beckoning you inside to grab a meal. No, he’s about 50 feet in the air — on the side of a building.
It’s a massive mural painted on the side of a 100-year-old hotel. It depicts an image of a man staring forward, his fingers intertwined in a thoughtful pose as he overlooks much of the Los Angeles Arts District.
If you’ve never been to the area, or if you’ve stared down the mural while grabbing one of the southwest facing windows at Truly LA, you might find yourself wondering: who is that guy?
The man in question is Ed Ruscha, a famed California artist known for his connection to the pop art scene. Originally from Oklahoma, Ruscha moved to California and said he was immediately inspired by the “sparkly, glamorous” world, according to an interview with Tate.org.
He’s known largely for his use of typography on vibrant backgrounds. His tools include stencils placed upon vivid colors to create a sense of conflict.
“I like the tension of having a combination of words or word in front of something that is also lively in itself, like a mountaintop. A lot of these mountaintops, they suggest glory or beauty, things like that. They almost have their own orchestration, you can almost hear trumpets playing, and I like that reference. It’s sort of a non-verbal way of referencing something that is really not making any noise at all,” Ruscha told Tate.
The 85-year-old has had art studios in Hollywood, Venice and Culver City, among others. He’s published a few books of photography and catalogs.
His first photobook, “Twentysix Gasoline Stations,” is considered “one of the most important artist books in history,” according to Christies. In total, he’s published 16 photobooks, the subject matter of which always comes back in some way to Los Angeles.
And, according to EdRuscha.com, some of his works have been lost to time and there’s an ongoing effort to recover them.
So why is his photo on the side of a building? Or, rather, who immortalized him in paint and brick?
The answer points you in the direction of another prominent artist: Kent Twitchell.
Twitchell is a prolific muralist of Los Angeles who makes massive realistic murals. One of his most notable murals is located on the side of a parking structure in downtown L.A. that depicts three panels of concert musicians in celebration of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Twitchell often uses his murals to depict celebrities and fellow artists — which brings us to Ruscha.
Longtime L.A. residents will find this information obvious, but if you weren’t already aware, the Arts District mural isn’t the first time Ruscha’s image has been slapped on the side of a building.
In the late 70s, Twitchell began the first Ruscha mural — the Ed Ruscha Monument at 1031 S. Hill St. Twitchell worked on the 70-foot tribute for more than a decade, finally completing it in 1987, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Sadly, the original mural stood for less than 20 years before it was accidentally and unceremoniously removed. A crew renovating the nearby YWCA Job Corps Center accidentally whitewashed the mural, undoing years of Twitchell’s work. The artist sued and was awarded about $1 million for the loss of his work, according to the Times, but the desire to replace his work started up again.
About a decade later, the itch to return Ruscha to the Los Angeles skyline became too much to take and Twitchell started on a new mural in an area of town that would soon be known citywide as the Arts District.
The second iteration of the Ed Ruscha Monument depicts an older Ruscha than the one Twitchell began creating more than 40 years ago. He explained the decision to repaint Ruscha as an older gent in an interview, saying that the pop art icon still looked great in his advanced age.
In 2015, work began in earnest on the new Ruscha mural. Its home is on the side of the American Hotel at 303 S. Hewitt St., which has operated in Los Angeles for more than 100 years. The hotel’s owner paid for the necessary prep work to make the building an ideal canvas to showcase Twitchell’s art and Ruscha’s calm demeanor.
The mural was completed in 2017 and was a welcome sight to art lovers and Los Angeles historians who were happy to see Ruscha and Twitchell secure their places at the top of one of the world’s most prominent art boroughs.