After Art Gozukuchikyan heard that Kobe Bryant had died in the hills above Los Angeles, he transformed into Artoon.
The 37-year-old artist gathered dozens of spray cans and headed to Studio City. On the side of an exotic car rental company along Ventura Boulevard, he began to paint the five-time NBA champion, biting his jersey, and his smiling 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Both looked skyward.
In short order, Gozukuchikyan had turned a little stretch of sidewalk into the latest shrine for the vanquished Lakers superstar. It will, irrefutably, be far from the last.
Since Bryant’s death Sunday along with his daughter and seven other people in a fiery helicopter crash, murals have popped up around the world — in New York, Massachusetts and Texas, and in the Philippines. Beneath them, fans have placed candles, flowers and personalized notes.
As news of the accident spread Sunday, traffic on Melrose Avenue snarled as people got out of their cars to leave Post-it notes by the hundreds on an existing mural of the basketball legend.
“For years this wall was just a local L.A. landmark that people enjoyed visiting. But with each note, each thank you, each moment of remembrance that is taped to the wall now, its meaning becomes more and more important in trying to help everyone heal,” said artist JC Ro, who has painted three murals of Bryant.
Where to see Kobe Bryant murals
L.A. is a city of murals, its walls decorated with colorful portraits of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Martin Luther King Jr., Frida Kahlo and Nipsey Hussle.
In the 1960s and 1970s, such artwork emerged as political or personal statements in neighborhoods such as Venice and South L.A. From the mid-'80s to early 2000s, the City of Angels became the mural capital of the world. Although a lawsuit led to a citywide ban, it was lifted in 2013 — paving the way for a rebirth of public artwork.
“Murals tell the story of their communities, the issues that affect us — whether it is social justice, equality and human rights — and of the people we love,” said Isabel Rojas-Williams, an art historian and mural expert.
Within 24 hours of the fatal helicopter crash, businesses called on muralists to paint portraits of Bryant. In some cases, muralists sought out the walls themselves.
Tristan Eaton, a prominent street artist and designer, took to his Instagram account.
“Los Angeles!” he wrote over a photo of Bryant. " If you have a ginormous wall, let’s do a memorial mural for the legend ASAP. Paint is on me.”
Eaton said he wants to take the athlete’s life story and immortalize it.
“A painting is a small way of patching that or allowing us to heal,” he said.
At Figueroa Street and Pico Boulevard in downtown L.A., across from the Convention Center, fans this week have made their way into a narrow alley where a mural of Bryant has stood untouched for five years.
The piece shows him grabbing his jersey and yelling, with the words “Los Angeles Culture” next to him. It was created by Jonas Never, a sports muralist, who painted it shortly after the former Lakers player announced he would retire from the NBA in 2015.
It was the mural that Isaac Patino, 27, kept thinking about after he heard his idol had been killed. Holding his 1-year-old girl, Alyssa, Patino and his wife, Rocio Leon, 27, stood by the mural to take a photo. Leon wore a Lakers shirt and yellow Crocs she had decorated with yellow and purple flowers as well as Bryant’s jersey number: 24. Their daughter wore Lakers pajamas.
“It’s perfect because ‘culture’ is what Los Angeles is about,” said Patino, who wore Bryant’s jersey.
A few feet away, a mural of Hussle had been painted on another building — one of many that had popped up in alleys and on buildings after the 33-year-old rapper’s killing last year.
“For me, they’re heroes,” Jerry Herrera, 25, of Compton said of Hussle and Bryant. “Heroes that will forever be embedded into the city, into people’s hearts and into the city’s soul.”
In L.A.'s Mid City, fans were descending on a new mural that had been painted on the side of Pickford Market. Created by Jules Muck, who goes by Muckrock, it shows a smiling Bryant and Gigi — short for Gianna. A vertical ribbon with the words “Kobe and Gigi, forever daddy’s girl” coiled next to the father and daughter.
Gazing at the mural, Ivan Staley, 34, was in tears.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “You can tell by looking at it she really took her time and made sure she captured the true beauty of them together.”
A father of two girls, Staley said the loss of Bryant and his daughter was devastating as a fan and as a parent.
Inside the Pickford Market, manager Mandeep Singh, 37, said of the mural: “We’re part of the community, and it should reflect that on the outside.
“It’s great … and people have a place they can pay tribute.”
On Monday, Muck painted a second mural of the father and daughter on the exterior of a marijuana dispensary on Pico Boulevard. People walked in to thank employees for the artwork. It was a reminder, one Angeleno said, of “what could have been and what was.”
In Studio City, as Gozukuchikyan worked on his own mural, spectators dropped off candles and flowers. Visitors included retired basketball player Matt Barnes.
Gozukuchikyan has done three other murals of Bryant. He did one when Bryant retired in 2016 and another featuring Bryant passing the ball to LeBron James, which he did when James decided to come to L.A.
“Life goes on. It’s on us to remember them,” Gozukuchikyan said. “It’s not just art, it’s a documentation. We’re documenting what’s happening in modern times.”
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