Column: Her paintings of black lives lost to police brutality have transformed boarded-up Venice shops
Jules Muck, known as MuckRock, creates a portrait on a Venice storefront of Tony McDade, a trans black man killed by police in Tallahassee, Fla.
Jules Muck, a muralist whose medium is spray paint, was hard at work Thursday afternoon on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. In paint-splattered shorts and an old white T-shirt, she was transforming a blank stretch of plywood protecting the windows of an artsy boutique called Chariots on Fire into a portrait of Tony McDade, a black trans man who was killed by police in Tallahassee, Fla., on
Every few minutes, someone would drive by and honk their approval. People pulled over and hopped out of their cars to take pictures.
“Much respect,” said a man on roller skates. “Mad props. Thank you.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters spent hours on Abbot Kinney, in peaceful solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have risked their health during a pandemic to protest the outrageous and ongoing killings of black Americans by police.
Merchants on the street, an eclectic mix of luxury brands and locally owned small businesses, had boarded their windows to forestall the kind of looting seen last weekend in Santa Monica. But they also wanted to signal their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We were out here and we were all talking about it,” said Muck, 42, who lives around the corner from the popular street and earns a living from commissions for her artwork. “And the vibe was, ‘We don’t want to be boarding up and looking the other way,’” she said. “This is a way to say, ‘We care, we are not closing our eyes to the issue.’ Some of these owners are activists themselves.”
And so Muck has spent much of the last week, at the behest of merchants, donating her artistic services to honor black victims of racial injustice.
“I want to represent visually at least the feelings that my neighbors have — anti-racism. Not just not being racist,” she told me.
On the clothing boutique Principessa, she had rendered the faces of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer lit the fuse on what has become an ongoing nationwide protest against racism.
On a board spanning the eyeglass store Ahlem and the clothing boutique LCD, she painted Floyd’s face, and his words, “I can’t breathe. Mama, mama.”
Muck, who signs her paintings “MuckRock,” works as quickly as you might expect for someone who began her career as a graffiti artist in New York City. She finds a photograph of each victim on her cellphone, and holds it in her left hand, constantly referring to it, as she paints with her right. Her distinctive style, often executed in shades of green, can be seen on walls and camper vans all over Venice.
Since 2016, one of her signature motifs is two rabbits engaged in the activity that rabbits are famous for, which has delighted some Venice residents and outraged others. She has painted the motif on abandoned refrigerators and mattresses all over Venice, which has turned the garbage into collectibles.
“When I was a graffiti artist, I painted on everything, but at this point, I try not to upset anyone, so I try to find places where the paint would be an improvement no matter what.”
Thursday, as she painted, she was approached by David Reiss, who owns a couple of places on Abbot Kinney, including the Brig, a bar, and Yours Truly, a restaurant.
He offered money, food, drink or painting materials.
“I love doing this,” she said. “Just donate some money to a good cause.”
A short time later, on Yours Truly, she had rendered the face of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was killed in 2014 by an officer in a Cleveland park.
“This is really special what you’re doing,” said Reiss, who has also been feeding the National Guard troops that have been deployed on Abbot Kinney.
“Awww, thank you,” said Muck, whose bloodhound Dada slept in the shade. “It feels great.”
One of the last touches she made was to Tamir’s eyes. With white paint, she dabbed light into them, bringing the slain boy’s face to life.
Twenty-five minutes after she began painting the portrait of Tony McDade, he emerged, in black and gray strokes, out of the wood.
Finished, she moved a block south to a hair salon called Trim. There, she would paint the face of another victim of an unjustified state killing.
Shelly Frey, a 27-year-old mother of two, was killed in 2012 by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy at a Houston Walmart. He suspected her of shoplifting.
“There are so many victims,” said Muck. “You’ll never run out.”
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