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Artist Mear One Tells the Story Behind His Anti-GMO Mural in Culver City

The Mear One mural gracing the Wood Cafe at Washington Blvd. and Inglewood, in Culver City
The Mear One mural gracing the Wood Cafe at Washington Blvd. and Inglewood, in Culver City
Stephanie Loo

The Wood Café in Culver City makes a great organic burger, but the restaurant's biggest draw might be the graffiti in the parking lot. If you've stopped at the corner of Inglewood and Washington in the past year, you know what we're talking about: On the side of the 15-foot wall is an eerie, technicolor mural from Mear One, one of the most famous street artists in Los Angeles.

Popularly known as the "Michelangelo of Graffiti," Mear One runs with renowned street artists like Shepard Fairey and Robbie Canal. At the request of the restaurant's owner, Demetrios Mavromichalis, the artist showed up with his pet bulldog in tow and started sketching freehand with his spray can.

Watch the time-lapsed video of its creation here.

"Humanity vs. The Machine" appeared a few weeks after the vote on Prop 37, an initiative that would have required labeling for all genetically engineered food. The proposition was rejected, a victory for GMO giant Monsanto and a disappointment for small-time farmers and organic promoters.

If the title of Mear One's piece isn't provocative enough, the imagery is. A young family stands protectively over their vegetable garden, warding off the smog of the evil GMO Man. The chemtrails and radio wires in the background are calling cards of the artist, who is no stranger to environmentally charged pieces. (Some of his other works are called "Garbage Island" and "Allegory of Complacency.")

 

Mear One's Wizard is a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
Mear One's Wizard is a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
Stephanie Loo

Fans are quick to point out the Wizard of Oz references too -- the emerald spires, sinister disembodied head and conveyor belt-brick road are legendary images from the movie, which was filmed only a few miles away at the old MGM studios. Mear One says that the Wizard is meant to represent big government. "I've always appreciated the idea of this little person behind the curtain of this omnipresent, oppressive force," he says.

But Mear One's political concerns goes beyond GMOs. Monsanto is just one section of what he calls the "nine-headed snake," a monster comprised of corporations like Dupont and Halliburton.

"There are so many issues I want to focus on," he says. "It's more about the wider damage these companies are causing by abusing us in so many ways. I'm trying to produce a new system of thinking."

The mural's very existence triggered a battle.

A Culver City native, Demetrios Mavromichalis has opened several businesses in art-friendly neighborhoods, such as the Venice Grind Coffee House and the Mar Vista Farmer's Market. But the Wood Café faced many obstacles in opening, thanks to strict Culver City ordinances. His first attempt at a mural was even more trying.

"It would appear that they were anti-street art. Anti- anything, really. I witnessed firsthand how aggressive they were."

Mavromichalis initially called Venice artist Jules Muck in 2009 and asked her to create a wraparound mural for the top of his building. She painted a series of decorative faces, but it wasn't long before the pop art attracted city code inspectors, who accused Mavromichalis of illegal advertising. They also had concerns about gang graffiti, which has stalked the street art movement since its inception.

 

A detail from the mural.
A detail from the mural.
Stephanie Loo

Muck's mural eventually was attacked by graffitists, motives unknown, who whited out all the faces.

So Mavromichalis tried again. In 2010 he commissioned a mural for the then-empty wall, prompting a collaboration between upcoming street artists like Jersey Joe "RIME" and husband-wife duo Dabs Myla. Together they created a popular piece of art that stayed up for two years, before Mavromichalis decided it was time for a change.

The mural takes up one entire wall of the restaurant.
The mural takes up one entire wall of the restaurant.
Stephanie Loo
Another mural detail.
Another mural detail.
Stephanie Loo

By the time the Mear One mural came along, Culver City's attitude towards street art had evolved. Even as L.A. has finally adopted an ordinance allowing murals so long as certain rules are met, neighboring Culver City has embraced its newfound trendiness, nurturing fine art supply stores and special housing for working artists. Local buildings have been tagged with young angels by German team Herakut and depressive figures by Stormie Mills -- even L.A. Weekly's headquarters are patterned with a mural by "wonder twins" How + Nosm.

"Culver City is one of the hotspots in L.A. that showcases art," says Mear One. "But it used to be a place where you got your TV fixed."

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