Wherever Ed Fuentes went, whether it was an art gallery or community meeting, he had his camera hanging around his neck.
Both Fuentes and his camera became fixtures of the downtown Los Angeles Arts District, as he meticulously and lovingly documented the neighborhood and its transformation in photos and writing on his blog, View From a Loft, starting in 2006.
Fuentes, who emerged as a voice and staunch advocate for the local arts scene, died Thursday morning at the age of 59 after suffering a heart attack, according to his father Edward Fuentes Sr.
In addition to his role as a local historian, Fuentes was a muralist, blogger, poet, photographer, graphic designer and comedian. Larry Harnisch described Fuentes in an LA Times column as a “human cyclone” because he wore so many hats.
“He really had his finger on the pulse of the art community downtown. There are so few voices like Ed’s out there,” said Maria Margarita Lopez, who met Fuentes while he was doing graphic design work at Variety more than 20 years ago.
A big guy with a scruffy beard, Fuentes was frequently described as “larger than life,” both in the physical sense and in personality, said cultural producer and photographer Melissa Richardson Banks. He was outgoing, funny, knowledgeable and passionate, said art curator Isabel Rojas-Williams.
And he could talk for hours. He would always play the devil’s advocate, pushing conversations in unexpected ways, said Alex Poli, an L.A. artist also known as Man One.
“If you gave him a microphone, he probably wouldn’t give it back to you,” she said.
Born and raised in Riverside, Fuentes lived there until the late ’90s. Fuentes was always artistic growing up; he won a graphic design contest in his hometown paper, the Press-Enterprise, when he was just 6 years old, his father said.
When he moved to L.A., he worked almost feverishly to document downtown public art and buildings. “You never know what’s going to be gone next,” Fuentes told Harnisch in 2013.
Fuentes’ championing of Latino artists helped fill a void in the Los Angeles art scene and his death is a searing loss, Lopez said.
“He used to tell me he was people’s worst nightmare because he was a Chicano who knew how to write,” Alex Poli said.
People should look to Latino street artists, such as those in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, who use “paint as a protest tool, a practice that came from the barrios, where villagers rose up with brushes for pitchforks and paint as torches,” Fuentes wrote in 2017. Underserved communities have “always spoken up by writing on the walls of their neighborhoods, demanding for better education and shared civic liberties.”
Murals, he wrote, redefined what art can be for a city, but work to recognize art from neglected communities is ongoing.
Although Fuentes left Los Angeles in 2012 to earn his MFA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he continued to write for LA’s KCET and dove into documenting similar movements in Las Vegas. Fuentes chronicled downtown Las Vegas murals and street art on another blog, Paint This Desert which he launched in 2013 with money from a Warhol Foundation grant.
In Las Vegas, Fuentes branched out into teaching and curating art exhibits. He was planning to open “Homeboy Fauxism,” an exhibit on an imaginary Chicano political artist from the early ‘80s (“Bunko”) and his influence on contemporary (also fictional) street art at Riverside Art Museum this month.
Fuentes saw what he loved about L.A. echoed in Las Vegas, and told Joe Schoenmann of Las Vegas Weekly that public art helps a city become a community.
“I watched it happen in downtown L.A.,” Fuentes said, according to the Las Vegas Weekly. “Street art and murals help people feel engaged in the streets. And that gray line of what is legal and illegal will never be agreed upon, but the art attracts people and allows them to experience a city as a city.”
Fuentes is survived by his mother, Dora Fuentes, and father, Edward Fuentes and brother Ron Fuentes.