Muralist’s Grand-Scale Design Is to Leave His Mark Along Freeways

Times Staff Writer

Having cut his artistic eye teeth on the back roads of India, Nepal and Afghanistan, David Gordon would not mind spending the rest of his professional life on the freeways and streets of Los Angeles.

While Gordon, 29, is working on a 601-foot-long mural on the Ocean Park Boulevard underpass at 4th Street in Santa Monica, he is seeking permission from the state Department of Transportation to paint two others along the Hollywood and Ventura freeways.

“Public art in Los Angeles is just now beginning to take off,” Gordon said. “With this mural, I feel I have found a niche, my way as an artist. I would like to do one a year for 40 years. I love the planning, strategy and execution of working on such large spaces that are so numerous in Los Angeles.”


He also likes the notion of painting directly for the public, rather than having to please art dealers whose interests may be directly related to the commercial prospects of an artist’s output.

“In public art,” Gordon said, “the public sees your work and there is an immediate response. They either like it or they don’t. And, of course, people are likely to view your work when it is along a street or a freeway. In an art gallery, who knows how many people will see it.”

Gordon, a Los Angeles native now living in Highland Park after spending several years in a Venice garage, whetted his appetite for murals six years ago when he hitchhiked through India, Nepal and Afghanistan.

Bound for France

He had gone to France to continue his art studies after earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at UCLA, but decided instead to see other parts of the world, earning money by painting portraits and murals.

Gordon continued to work on murals when he returned to Los Angeles and assisted Terry Schoonhoven in painting the Olympic mural on the Wilshire Boulevard off-ramp of the Harbor Freeway in 1984--one of 10 murals commissioned by the Olympic Organizing Committee.

After the mural was completed that May, he began a three-month campaign to win a contract from the City of Santa Monica to paint the north wall of the Ocean Park Boulevard underpass, a project begun but never finished by muralist Jane Golden.


“I sold my van to get enough money to rent a studio downtown to work on the mural plans,” Gordon said. “Then, when the plans were finished, I had to show them around town to gain public support in Santa Monica. As it turned out, my understanding is that I barely beat out another artist for the privilege.”

David Lutz, director of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, confirmed that the vote was close. “We had two outstanding entries,” Lutz said. “Unfortunately, we had only one wall.”

Received Grant

Gordon acquired $25,000 from the Wiseman Foundation to underwrite the costs of completing the project, an imaginative depiction of the Santa Monica carrousel, from which horses onto the pier and into the surf.

Gordon started in January and has until July to finish.

He plans to start painting the horses either this week or next, after having worked his way through assorted artistic challenges, including getting the surf right.

“I would have started painting the horses at the beginning of September but for the problems of the waves, caused in part because there was more slope to the wall than I thought,” Gordon said. “I also am not a surfer and it has cost me at least a month to get them right.

“I don’t want to say that I am a perfectionist, but I do want everything about the mural to be in balance with everything else, regardless of where one views the mural. I am trying to produce a work of art, not just a mural. I want it to match what I have in my head.”


He has avoided plastic-based paints, favored by most outdoor artists, in favor of a silicate-based paint manufactured in Germany. “The paint I’m using will last longer, as long as 75 years, I’m told.”

Although the paint will last longer, Gordon said that he will not add a substance used by other muralists to protect the work against vandals. “That would give the painting a glossy look I do not like,” he said. “Besides, there has been no graffiti sprayed over it yet. The response thus far, from motorists, pedestrians, has been totally positive.”

Expecting Child

Gordon was married three years ago to Siri Larssen and is expecting his first child any day.

His predecessor, Golden, encountered nothing but problems in trying to complete her work on the same spot. She began the project, which was to include both the north and south walls of the underpass, in 1979, and abandoned it three years later during a struggle with leukemia and after several attacks on the project by graffiti vandals.

Before she quit work on the north wall, she agreed to give up the south wall, on which another artist painted whales.