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Man One, Graffiti Artist Honored by L.A. City Hall, Sees His Downtown Mural Buffed by City

Man One and Vyal -- two of L.A.'s most respected graffiti artists -- got a slap in the face yesterday in exchange for beautifying a tagged-up brick wall downtown.

Last week, with the permission of Sun Buster Inc., a sunglasses shop at Winston and Los Angeles Street, the OG writers spent two days collaborating on a piece that ran down the side of the Sun Buster building. According to Vyal, the business owner said the mural was attracting new customers, and "everyone in the community loved it."

Everyone, that is, but a city worker with a bucket of paint and a power washer:

Man One says the security guard at the apartment building across the street reported seeing a city crew buff out the artwork in the dead of night on the morning of August 7. By the time the building owner arrived to work, the wall had been reverted to its former state of fugly poop-brown.

Before:

Man One, Graffiti Artist Honored by L.A. City Hall, Sees His Downtown Mural Buffed by City
Courtesy of Stephen Zeigler

After:

Man One, Graffiti Artist Honored by L.A. City Hall, Sees His Downtown Mural Buffed by City
Courtesy of Stephen Zeigler

The L.A. Department of Public Works contracts with various outside companies (on top of its in-house graffiti abatement crews) to buff out unsightly tags around the city. One of those companies, Graffiti Control Systems, has told LA Weekly that most of the stuff it buffs out is by the request of constituents or law enforcement, but sometimes employees do drive around looking for unlawful markings to erase.

However, downtown art warrior Stephen Zeigler writes in an email that just two doors down from the Sun Buster building "is a giant gate/door absolutely covered top to bottom in crappy tags mostly from tagger crews/gangs."

You'd think a buffing crew would have hit that before the labored piece next door.

Even more ironically, the L.A. City Council just recognized Man One (real name Alejandro Poli) with a community-service award of sorts at its June 15 meeting. Councilmembers lauded him for his dedication to the HeArt Project, an art workshop for L.A. youth, as well as the enriching effect that his downtown Crewest gallery has had on the neighborhood.

Vyal, as well, runs workshops out of his East L.A. studio; he and Man One are living proof that the urge to tag can be turned into something positive.

"Alejandro is ... a world-renowned artist who has traveled everywhere representing Los Angeles as an international ambassador for the arts," beamed Councilwoman Jan Perry at the meeting.

On that note, both he and Vyal are being flown out to Europe this coming Sunday for a street-art tour with some of the best graffiti writers in the world; they'll be doing live demonstrations in cities like Bristol and Berlin Weisbaden.

"How is it that we can't paint in our own backyard?" asks Man One. "It's destroying our mural culture, our art culture in L.A."

If you can handle more irony: The buffed mural resides in the brand-new district of City Councilman Jose Huizar, the same local politician currently championing an ordinance that would allow murals to be officially permitted (and therefore protected) within city limits. Throughout the drafting process, Huizar has been rambling on about how important and historic the mural culture is to Los Angeles.

"We are blessed to have you in this great city," Councilman Huizar said to Man One as he was receiving his City Hall award. "I would love to see this city be a museum without walls."

Huh. We've contacted Huizar's spokesman, Rick Coca, to ask: Can't you instruct graffiti-abatement crews to avoid the colorful non-gangy stuff while we wait for the ordinance to go through?

Man One says he sees an artistic similarity in the murals the city has been choosing to buff.

"I think when they don't understand it, especially when there are graffiti letters involved, that's the first thing that triggers them," he says. "Like, 'We can't read it so we don't want it up.' Usually if it's cute and bubbly, they'll leave it up."

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