The idea that Suicidal Tendencies frontman and founding member Mike Muir would one day be the subject of a huge public mural — particularly a mural sponsored by the City of Los Angeles — would have, once upon a time, seemed a little ludicrous.
In the '80s, the legendary punk-turned-metal band, formed in Venice in 1980, were persona non grata, accused of being gang members, of inciting violence at their shows, even of advocating teen suicide. (That reputation, of course, belied a more complicated reality, not to mention the fact that the band obliterated boundaries of genre and race, and tackled personal and social issues in ways few metal bands did at the time.) In the latter part of the decade, Suicidal Tendencies were even banned, at least on a de facto basis, from every club in Los Angeles.
Be that as it may, Muir's face soon will be emblazoned on a wall in the Arts District — a wall that, when the Sixth Street Bridge is completed in a few years, will be seen by thousands of commuters a day.
The mural was commissioned by L.A. City Councilmember José Huizar, who represents downtown, Boyle Heights, Northeast L.A. and El Sereno. Huizar will unveil it on Sunday, June 4, at 2 p.m. at its location on Santa Fe Avenue in the Arts District.
The unveiling on June 4 will feature a set by the band, whose newest record, World Gone Mad, came out last year.
Artist Robert Vargas is painting the mural on a wall, private property that is being leased by the owner to the city. The mural, so far, is of a piece with Vargas' best — big murals that adorn the sides of buildings with large, detailed black-and-white faces, like his gorgeous "Our Lady of DTLA" downtown, or the mariachi outside the hip Boyle Heights bar Eastside Luv. He paints all his murals, including the new Muir mural (Muiral?), over the span of just a few days, without projections or stencils.
Huizar, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Boyle Heights, listened to Suicidal Tendencies in his younger years, and is a friend of Muir's; the two met backstage at a concert five years ago. He thought of the mural as a way to feature both an L.A. icon (Muir) and an up-and-coming local artist (Vargas).
“This mural highlights the talents of two great artists,” Huizar says. “I am a huge supporter of the arts and, in particular, our local artists — they help define Los Angeles as a city and as a unique cultural and artistic destination unlike any place in the world.”
The funding for the project, according to Huizar's office, comes from the councilmember's budget for arts programming, which he has used on other occasions for music events such as downtown's Night on Broadway, and for restoring murals within his district.
Vargas has been working on the mural overnight this week — because of construction he can only work between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. — and says he's seen folks come and go while he paints, curious about his project and about Muir.
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"[Some people have come] out of the woodwork who have gone on in their careers, like José has, and are being thrown back to their early days as, you know, young renegades," Vargas said on Wednesday evening, before hunkering down on the mural for the night. "It’s kind of an awesome thing, because Suicidal Tendencies and Mike Muir are so iconic to the L.A. music scene. I just did a mural of [skateboarding legend] Tony Alva in Venice ... this is all part of the same narrative of L.A. icons, forward thinkers and renegades being recognized not only by myself but by the city."
The irony of Muir's journey isn't lost on Vargas, either. "For [Suicidal Tendencies] to go from being banned back in the day to having a city-sponsored mural done of Mike Muir is a really interesting full circle."
An Instagram video recorded on Friday and posted on Vargas' account shows Vargas and Huizar surprising Muir, who knew about the mural but didn't know it would be finished by Sunday. "When we open the bridge in 2019, thousands of people will pass by there every day and see your face," Huizar tells Muir, who grins in response.