Update: After the unveiling of the house, Santa Monica cops and city code enforcement weren't happy. For more info see our post on our news blog: Graffiti House Celebrating Heal The Bay Targeted by Santa Monica Officials
In 2008, a deco-style fortress built in the '50s and originally belonging to a prominent family in Santa Monica fell into foreclosure in the middle of an extensive renovation. Until three months ago it stood vacant, an eerie house on a bluff with a homeless woman squatting the top floor. The terraced gardens in back had overgrown and were infested with rats. The neighbors on this otherwise upscale block wondered and complained.
Then came Adam Corlin, with a cause, a dare, and an endless supply of tarps. Corlin, a successful builder and a fourth generation Santa Monica resident, had his eye on this property, and when the price dropped to 50 percent of its original asking price, he jumped at the opportunity to own it.
But this was no ordinary flip -- Corlin had some time in his hacienda rehab schedule and wanted to raise awareness for his favorite charity, Heal the Bay, the environmental group working to restore Santa Monica Bay. In speaking to the organization, he knew it had to be different than the usual donation or doing volunteer work. He had a blank house in Santa Monica, he had resources to do something big, and he had just met a graf artist appropriately named Risk.
Asking one of the West Coast's most legendary graffiti artists to paint your million dollar house for charity would be a harrowing prospect for most property owners, especially for a property in a secluded neighborhood on the west side. But that's just the kind of passion that attracted Risk to the project. "Meeting Adam and having him say, 'You're an artist, I want to make a difference, let's go do this,' that was pretty cool." says Risk. "Plus, I used to surf all the time. My first graffiti tag was Surf," he adds. "So I believe in the cause. It's been awesome. We can do what we like to do, and at the same time we can wake people up to something positive for Heal the Bay."
At the time of this publication, all work is being done under tarps, so as not to tip off negative parties and attract attention. Instead of painting directly on the four story structure, a series of 142 4-foot by 4-foot panels were constructed, painted and later mounted to extensive scaffolding.
The piece, which stands 40 feet high and about 100 feet across, was also an opportunity for an unprecedented Risk and Retna collaboration. "Retna and I wanted to work together for a long time and this is the perfect project. It holds a lot of meaning for us," says Risk. "Its cool because it's a Heal the Bay mural and its not just a typical wave or a dolphin. Its stops you and makes you wonder, 'what is it?' Something you have to look into and think about."
Risk's layered color fields signify, from top to bottom: sky (orange/yellow), pollution (purple), and water (green and blue). The colors serve as a beautiful, metal-flaked backdrop to Retna's trademark hieroglyphics. From top to bottom, that text will read:
OCEANS AT RISK
HEAL THE BAY
And in the front:
RESTORE AND PROTECT THE WORLDS OCEANS
An added irony is that retired undercover LAPD -- an organization not known for friendliness toward grafitti artists -- will be providing security for the mural.
Corlin's crew is currently landscaping the grounds and the reveal of the mural will happen on Thursday, Sept 8 on KTLA at 8 a.m. Watch this space, as we will post the address so you can go by and check it out yourself. Or see LA Weekly's updated start to finish slideshow. (UPDATE: The house is at 825 Berkeley St. See our pics at "Risk and Retna's Heal the Bay House.")
The massive piece will remain up through Heal the Bay's "Coastal Cleanup Day" on Sept 17, with plans to tour. Corlin will light the house until midnight for onlookers.
The owner is over-the-moon excited to unveil his summer labor of love, but expects the reaction to be mixed. "This is a great message using art, giving a chance to [give] animals in the ocean that don't have a voice to say, 'Hey, this is real life,'" says Corlin. "Its time to say 'enough.'"
The unlikely pairing of graffiti artist and property owner has so far proven successful as Risk and Corlin plan to move forward with other awareness opportunities through a new @RISK foundation.
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"I think for the longest time we as graffiti artists weren't saying much," offers Retna. "As we get older, and we start speaking out, it becomes more of an issue with the law. When you get to work with passionate people who see past that, that don't care about the controversy, that's great.
We might be endangered some day as well," he laughs.
To sign up for Heal the Bay's Coastal Cleanup Day, or to donate in the name of the Oceans@RISK project, visit healthebay.org
Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.