THE VENICE ART WALLS STORY, WEST COAST GRAFFITI
One of my favorite sounds is the ticking of a clock, tic, tic, tic. If there’s anything that I could do in this world, it would be to turn back time. Part of me wants to believe that time traveling is real, and it’s not gibberish from science fiction novels. If you ask me the date, it will be the 1900s; the sound of horse carriages; the swift sound of a long dress on the ground, trolleys passing by, steam trains yondering in the distance. It’s a nostalgic thought, where times were not necessarily simpler, but humanity was different and art was a necessity.
My second favorite sound is the sea, hearing the sea in Southern California, seeing gondolas pass by, while feeling the California sun; that would be my definition of paradise. Yes, I said Gondolas, we all heard stories about heroes without a cape, but this one is different. Thanks to Abbot Kinney, we have one of Los Angeles most pluricultural graffiti landmarks which was once a small copy of Venice, Italy. Little did Kinney know, time would preserve his vision, in a different but iconic way.
The Venice Art Walls are located in the historic Venice Beach, California. If you look for them, you can’t miss them. There’s a big sign that says Venice in bold letters, hanging in the air. It’s a replica of the original sign in 1905. Today, It hosts over 10 million visitors annually, besides Disneyland, it’s the second most visited destination in the state. Kinney, being in his twenties, recreated the city of Venice, he constructed canals, imported gondolas from Italy, even made an opera house. This renaissance man was a patron of the arts, a nature conservator, a visionary, but most of all a humanitarian. He wanted to build a community through art, where painters, poets, singers and dancers could unite and have a little bohemian heaven under the golden state sun.
Kinney, at 17 years old, traveled to Europe and fell in love with Venice, Italy. History usually describes him as an entrepreneur and a millionaire, but he was much more. As years passed, the canals designed by Kinney were made streets and boulevards, and the Italian gondolas that once ferried visitors became folklore tales. Today most residents and visitors don’t realize that they are at times walking over what was once water. The canals, gondolas and even Kinneys miniature rail railroad train vanish in time. Still Venice Beach stood as a cultural place and in 1961 the Venice Pavilion was built. The specific area where these walls are located was called: “The Pit or the Graffiti Pit”. At first it was illegal to paint them, in a move toward cleaning up the city, the Pavilion was torn down but a portion of the walls were preserved as a living reminder of the art that had been painted over them. These walls have stayed throughout the test of time for the people and by the people.
Eventually, the walls became legal to paint, and they were renamed the Venice Graffiti Walls in the year 2000, a particular year for mankind (the turn of a century). These famous walls are curated and protected by the community and the STP foundation (Setting the Pace Foundation). Everyone is welcome to paint them and it’s free.
Southern California is one of the places where you find graffiti in its own natural and charming way. Certain names come to mind when I remember Los Angeles, like Chaz Bojorquez. Even though Chaz has never painted the Walls in Venice Beach, he is known for his chicano style, and one of the firsts graffiti artists that made the transition from street to gallery art. There is an old interview of Chaz, where he said something relative as: this world is no longer his. I remember feeling stunned, maybe Kinney would have said the same.
I wrote this article, after my visit to Venice Beach. My daughter just turned nine, our birthdays are days apart. I make an effort every year to have a trip around our dates. This year we chose California. She wanted to head up straight to the second most visited destination in this state (Disneyland) and I wanted to see Venice Beach (again), but this time with her by my side. We did both, she had her fun and I had mine; the day I took her to see the walls, the sky was pouring down, it almost never rains in California, but we were lucky to witness it.
We entered a book shop in Venice until the rain stopped. She saw the kids section and sat down on a little old foot pedestal that had a vintage print of cats. The bookstore smelled just like an antique store, dusty and full of wonders. It had two cats guarding its premises, one was orange and the other one was black, both could care less of our presence.
Next to the kids section, there was a small graffiti section, you had your typical Banksy books, your subway art books but it had one copy of the L.A Graffiti Black Book. I have been searching for this one for a couple of years. This was a sign that our trip was going to be great, so we purchased our books and headed for the walls.
The sand was dry, the sky was blue, and we could hear from a distance a man playing Hotel California by the Eagles on his electric piano. Cool wind blew our long dark hair, my daughter stood next to the walls and for a moment my world felt right. Such a lovely place, where time stands still and art brings a dash of expression; maybe it’s not Kinneys Venice anymore, time has a way to remember great ideas, but mostly great people.