At the back of Kat Von D's High Voltage Tattoo shop, 20 distinct spray-painted faces stare back at you. This detailed mural wraps around the wall space in the parking lot, the shock of red hair on Von D's head standing out from the crowd.
The tattoo vixen and TV personality didn't employ just anyone to do the job. She flew out an artist who'd never been to L.A. -- Spanish street artist Belin. He completed the task back in 2010 (and appeared on Von D's reality show LA Ink) and will now show his exhibit "True or False Superheroes" at Kat Von D's Wonderland Gallery in West Hollywood, opening tonight from 8 to 10 p.m. and running through July.
Belin, born in Linares, Spain, creates large-scale portraits of distinct characters that feel realistic and caricature-like at the same time. Their large heads and the dynamic, colorful designs behind them lend the works an eye-catching surrealism. It's the type of work that makes you look twice and marvel at the power of a few spray paint cans.
Belin did not receive formal training. He drew from a young age but not until 1995 did he pick up a spray paint can. His talent got him noticed by Von D and others and last year he traveled to Miami for Art Basel.
Belin's hometown and L.A. find common ground in the ever-present threat of buffing.
"About a month ago I had three really big murals and they painted everything white," he says, in an interview translated from Spanish, about the owner of the building. "I painted mural of [rapper] Wiz Khalifa in 2008 and when he saw it in a video -- he saw the video I made about the process -- he put it on his MySpace. His mom wrote to me expressing her gratitude. They painted over that mural. So no respect exists."
Linares proves a playground for artists from all around the world, like Blu from Italy and Nash from the Netherlands. Here in L.A., he loves the work he's seen from artists like duo How and Nosm and well-known crew Mad Society Kings (MSK).
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"True or False Superheroes" will include his own creations with spray-paint but also acrylic, along with sculptures, engravings and prints. While visitors will see familiar faces in his work, like those of President Obama and Hugo Chavez, Belin leaves it up to the viewer to decide who they see as true superheroes. He sees the less famous figures in his works as superheroes, whether they realize it or not.
"They're normal, common people that work on the street in whatever normal job -- whether in a bakery, as a taxi driver or a painter -- that have trouble because of the economic crisis," says Belin. "We're all superheroes and we don't know it until a difficult moments comes and we find our strength."
Kat Von D's Wonderland Gallery is located on 1257 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood.