Wiseman, Fairey, and RETNA at the New West Hollywood Library

Shepard Fairey's mural at the West Hollywood Library

The new West Hollywood Library is officially open to the public. In addition to the extensive, two story collection of resource materials and books, the library is a 48,000 square foot architectural showpiece, which the LA Times called “one of the most impressive public pieces in the region in a decade.” Referencing many of Southern California’s signature design influences, the building is complete with rooftop tennis courts, an enormous parking garage, and commissioned artworks by three artists.

We stopped by a small panel discussion with the artists on Tuesday, put on by the West Hollywood Arts Council and moderated by KCRW’s Frances Anderton. Listening to the trio of artists talk about their different styles, motivations, and processes, you can sum up each of the artists with a single word: David Wiseman, the academic, Shepard Fairey, the political, and RETNA, the emotional.

Wiseman, influenced by European Art Deco and his own fascination with horticulture, used a scale model and a powerpoint full of reference material to talk about the life-sized steel and plaster sycamore tree, which grows upward from the interior stairwell towards the skylight. Fairey, whose work covers the lobby of the theater at the ground level and the enormous back wall of the parking structure, used his trademark stencil, poster and paint techniques to illustrate his Peace Elephant and many of West Hollywood’s famous landmarks, including the Sunset Tower Hotel and the Emser tile building.

But perhaps the most fun part of the evening was a Q&A exchange between enigmatic street artist RETNA and an audience member about the meaning of his signature text-like graffiti piece, which faces Melrose from the South Wall. Viewing any RETNA work for the first time, one or two symbols evoke a feeling of familiarity, which quickly gives way to a confused dyslexia, as you realize you can’t in fact decode what is written. In the exchange, RETNA admitted he has created his own “font” (but not an entire language) by referencing the common shapes and characters from several alphabets, including Hebrew, Cyrillic, Latin and even Heiroglyphics. He also revealed that he included a quote from Salman Rushdie in the mural, but with a sly smile, wouldn’t disclose which one, how to decode it, or if the quote was in English, Spanish, or even Latin.

Be sure to look up the next time you are driving down Melrose.

RETNA's Mural at the West Hollywood Library

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