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World Cup Gives Artist Chance to Send Message : Art: Willie Herron’s mural saluting the soccer tournament will welcome LAX’s diverse visitors with a call for unity.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For Laguna Hills muralist Willie Herron, the part of the World Cup soccer tournament that will be played in Los Angeles represents far more than just the ending of an international ball game.

It’s an opportunity for him to capture, symbolically through art, the uniting of hundreds of ethnically and racially diverse players--many on the same teams--from around the globe in the struggle to achieve a single goal.

In his giant World Cup mural, which was unveiled in a San Juan Capistrano studio Sunday in its nearly completed form, Herron conveys his greatest hope: that, like the soccer players, the people of the world will unite, then struggle to cure their mutual ills.

The title of his banner-like mural is “Solo Unido Un Mundo Vencera” (Spanish for “only united can one world be victorious”). It is one of five that will welcome long-distance travelers to Los Angeles and commemorate the World Cup.

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“I like to take a problem and create something positive from that in an image,” Herron said of his mural, referring to the inability of many nations to work together.

The mural reflects his vision of a better world. “This mural was inspired more than anything else by a futuristic kind of feeling.”

The painting is an image of a group of nondescript athletes--Herron intentionally leaves nationality out of the picture--helping one another reach up toward a globe and a World Cup trophy.

This week, the 50-foot-high, 40-foot-wide mural will be rolled up and then trucked to Los Angeles International Airport, where it will hang from a parking structure facing the International Terminal. Travelers will be greeted by Herron’s work for the next 4 1/2 years.

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“It’s a great way to welcome people from around the world to Los Angeles,” said Mission Viejo resident and bus driver Mark Andrews, who spent an hour Sunday gazing at and photographing the mural. “I see a message we should all seriously think about: ‘One world, one people.’ As long as we’re working against each other we won’t make it.”

Herron is a Los Angles native who is best known for his public art work in East Los Angeles. Those murals, painted on buildings or structures, deal with Latino and social issues.

Herron was one of five painters commissioned to paint murals across Los Angeles for the World Cup soccer tournament, which begins in June. Eight games--the finals--will be played in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

The other four World Cup murals have been hung along freeway routes between LAX and the Rose Bowl. The mural program was commissioned by the Social and Public Resource Center in Venice. Herron, who usually earns about $30 a square foot for the murals he paints, will earn just $5 a square foot for his World Cup project. He’ll split that with his partner and protege, Umberto Caiafa.

“It’s nothing; we’re basically doing it for free,” Herron said of the commission.

The two have worked 12- to 20-hour shifts over the last seven weeks to complete the mural. Utilizing the stimulative effects of coffee, jazz and various forms of upbeat Latin music, they have meticulously painted the 2,000-square-foot mural one tiny section at a time. About 30 different colors of acrylic paint were used.

Herron and Caiafa rushed to complete the work by Sunday’s public reception, but were unable to finish painting the World Cup trophy that will be situated toward the top of the mural.

“We were up until 5 a.m. this morning trying to finish. I’m very tired,” said Caiafa, 29, in a heavy Italian accent. “I feel empty now.”

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Wearing dark sunglasses to hide his tired and bloodshot eyes, 42-year-old Herron bounced from one guest or reception-related duty to another inside the warehouse during the public viewing.

The consensus among dozens of local residents who dropped by to view the mural Sunday was that the artists’ long hours of work had paid off.

“The color work and the texture are good and the movement of the athletes is very exciting,” commented artist Connie King, who lives in Irvine, as she viewed the mural. “I can’t wait to see it all stretched out at the airport.”

Herron said the mural should be hanging at LAX by the end of the week.


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