Why Jonas Never's Ventura Boulevard Mural Is Just A 'V' — And Faces An Uncertain Fate
Muralist Jonas Never's work has made an impact across Los Angeles. His art depicts L.A. landmarks, fallen heroes like food critic Jonathan Gold, sports heroes like LeBron James (in his controversial King of L.A. mural), and more.
But his latest project has run into a roadblock.
Never was hired to paint a mural on Ventura Boulevard that pays tribute to Ventura Boulevard across the wall of a commercial building in Encino. It was supposed to show images of the iconic street in the style of a postcard.
It all comes down to a fight over where Jonas will stand while painting the mural. The building's property manager, Seana Yates, told LAist that she approached the parking lot next door to pay for parking spaces to put the mechanical lift Never would work in while painting the mural. The parking lot's manager approved the project, but after work had started, the lot's owner shut it down.
"When the owner did drive by and see the mural in progress, he lost his mind," Yates said. "He called the manager of his parking lot and screamed at him. Jonas even told me that he could hear the guy screaming through the cell phone at this guy — and he was up on the lift."
According to Yates, Never was told to stop immediately, with legal action threatened. The owner later requested a payment in the tens of thousands of dollars to allow painting to continue, Yates said.
The mural is partially done — you can see how it stands above, and a mockup of what it was supposed to look like below:
The owners of the commercial building are allowed access to its side for maintenance and improvements, according to Yates, with their property line ending at the bottom of the wall. But the threats of litigation have been enough of a deterrent to keep the project from progressing, at least for the moment.
Never was hired through the organization Art Share L.A., which helps local artists find work throughout the Los Angeles area.
"[The parking lot's owner] believes that murals are a nuisance," Art Share L.A.'s Executive Director Cheyanne Sauter told LAist, "and will attract negative attention. And we've done everything that we can to explain to him that murals actually bring a lot of positive attention — potentially bringing filming revenue that could benefit both the parking lot and the building, and the artist."
Those appeals have been to no avail so far.
Sauter said that she was at the location the day the project had to be brought to a halt. She saw at least six people come by to look at the mural or stop and take photos.
"I didn't have the heart to tell them that the progress would be delayed," Sauter said.
Yates said that the project was put on hold at least partially over concerns that the parking lot's owner would "sabotage" it.
"We don't want to spend any more money trying to complete it if he's going to take us to court and embroil us in three years of litigation," Yates said.
"We've put the project on hold until we can figure out a path forward which works for both sides," Peter Horn with the San Francisco company that owns the building, Soma Capital Partners, told LAist. "We take their concerns seriously, and want to handle the situation appropriately, in a way that works for both parties, as well as the neighborhood."
The parking lot's owner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The artist hopes to get back to work — he posted about the mural over the weekend to his 103,000 Instagram followers. He also mentioned the work he'd done consulting with the Valley Relics Museum prior to starting work on the mural.
"He really took this design to heart," Sauter said, "thinking of all the historic implications and the importance in Los Angeles that Ventura Boulevard and Encino has had. He went and looked through the archives and found images of different movies, and different musicians that he's added into the mural."
Of course, the reasons for the mural aren't just to add some art to the neighborhood — Yates noted that one of the reasons was to be able to charge higher rent in their building.
"We just wanted to make the building stand out, and become kind of a landmark, and really just to increase its value — increase the rent that we could charge," Yates said.
Horn, from the company that owns the building, said the situation was more nuanced.
"While you'd like to see an economic return on any kind of building improvement, our primary goal with the mural is to create a lasting landmark that pays homage to the history and culture of Ventura Boulevard, which is exactly what Jonas has started — and hopes to finish," Horn said via email.
Art Share L.A.'s Sauter said that she's hoping a resolution between the two parties can be reached, allowing Never to finish his creation.
"Unfortunately, I don't know if we're going to see the finished product," Sauter said. "But right now we have a beautiful 'V' sitting on top of a huge wall."
You can currently see that V at 16200 Ventura Boulevard in Encino.
This story has been updated with comments from the building's ownership group.
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