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Huntington gallery puts street art on the walls

Street artist Axayacatl Nevarez of Los Angeles spray-paints an image of a robot onto a wall at the Huntington Beach Art Center as part of the "On the Wall" show, which opens Saturday.
(Brittany Woolsey)

Jamie Johnson originally wanted his artwork to appear in newspaper comics. When that didn’t work out, he turned to street walls.

Johnson, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, said the poor economy in the early 2000s left a lot of artists with nowhere to turn.

“The Internet was just starting to happen, and it wasn’t about getting syndicated or published anymore,” said the 35-year-old Santa Ana resident. “When the economy changed, it really left a lot of artists stumped on what to do with their lives.

“I got into graffiti as just an outlet for my frustration because I couldn’t get hired. I took my illustrations and just started putting them out on the streets because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it. I still knew I could be a valid artist. Even though I wasn’t getting paid for it, at least I was still in the public eye.”

The street artist, who goes by the moniker Mice of Millions, collaborated with about 20 other artists for the Huntington Beach Art Center’s latest show, “On the Wall,” which displays street art painted directly on the gallery walls.

An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with catering by 2nd Floor.

Kate Hoffman, executive director of the Huntington Beach Art Center, said a goal of the exhibit is to overcome the stigma associated with graffiti artists.

“By bringing street art inside and putting it on the walls, we want to tell youth that street art is a valid art form, and vandalism doesn’t support that,” she said. “We want them to not tag, not be vandals with street art, but to recognize the legitimacy of it, bring it indoors and turn it into fine art. We want to attract young people and show them what the art center is all about.”

Hoffman said the show is different from anything else the gallery has done. She said it usually focuses on other types of fine art.

The artists have prepared for the show the past week by using spray paint, brushes, paint pens and other implements to create their pieces on blank white walls.

While some artists planned designs that they projected onto the wall and traced, many let their imaginations run wild.

“Watching them make these pieces has just been an amazing thing,” Hoffman said. “They all have their own style, and all have their own methods of preparation. The differences show dramatically in terms of color, style, personality and imagery.”

On Monday, Axayacatl Nevarez, a street artist from Los Angeles, was finishing a spray-painted image of a robot that he did not draw ahead of time.

He said he likes the size of the blank canvas that walls provide.

“I just kind of went for it because I really like the space here,” Nevarez, who goes by the nickname Black Light King, said as he painted the roughly 10-foot-tall, black-and-white figure. “I’ve done something similar on another wall, so I already kind of knew the structure of the wall and how I wanted to use it.

“Each new wall has its own space, so you have to rethink how you’re going to work into it. I was able to utilize the space and work with the diagonals from the wall to make this piece stand out.”

Melody Owens, the only female artist in the show, said she wanted to bring some femininity to the group.

“Street art is not commonly thought of as being feminine,” said the 30-year-old Costa Mesa resident, who recently began doing street art. “It was important for me to make it known that women can do it, too.... I think it’s great that we’re doing this show all together, and hopefully it will create more collaboration and synergy with all types of artists.”

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IF YOU GO

What: “On the Wall” street art show

Where: Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St.

When: Saturday through Aug. 29. Gallery hours vary, and it is closed Sundays and Mondays.

Cost: Donations accepted

Information: huntingtonbeachartcenter.com


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