Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Bradley, Jackie Robinson and Duke Ellington. These are the names of some of the prominent figures featured in Elliot Pinkney’s mural on 42nd and Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. While these people are everlasting figures in the history books, their likenesses on Pinkney’s mural weren’t as permanent as they began to deteriorate over the course of 31 years since the mural’s inception in 1984.
Art conservator Aneta Zebala was commissioned by the LA Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) to restore Pinkney’s mural. The DCA wanted the mural to be restored to its original glory before the 20th anniversary of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival taking place on July 25-26 along Central Avenue from Vernon Avenue to Martin Luther King Blvd.
The mural was originally located at 44th and Central Ave, at the Los Angeles Sentinel building. Now situated above the parking garage of an apartment complex, the fully-restored mural features a gradient of bright blues, yellows, and reds that frame the historical figures and local buildings in the foreground. As Zebala and her team work, cars drive in and out of the garage, weaving their way around the scaffolding set up.
“I think the whole area is being revitalized, and it’s wonderful to know that there’s interest in cultural aspects of the district,” Zebala sad. “Certainly the neighbors are very interested in what we’re doing. Everybody stops and asks about the process and they’re very happy they now have a clean mural.”
Today, the mural looks as if it were freshly painted with bright colors and defined details. However, the mural was not always like this, and had suffered great damage and decay over the years. Zebala’s team had to repair flaking paint, remove dust, and fill in missing sections of the 13-panel mural.
“Some of the problems are very technical and tedious of trying to clean the surface and at the same time make sure that you don’t lose any more of the paint,” Zebala said.
Because Pinkney’s mural wasn’t painted directly onto the wall, Zebala and her team were able to dismount each individual panel and conduct most of the needed repairs from her studio. Always trying to remain true to the artist’s intent, Zebala and her team tried their best to recreate the mural’s original artwork.
For example, the center panel of the mural proved the most difficult for Zebala and her 6-person team. The panel features a pair of hands cupped around African-American youths who are holding textbooks with titles that read, “Science,” or “Math,” as well as a young boy playing with blocks.
However when Zebala’s team first started their work the little boy and the blocks he was playing with were mostly illegible. By consulting with the original artist, her team was able to recreate the missing pieces to form a complete mural once again. Zebala’s team never paints over the original design and strives to follow the design of the remaining residual paint.
Once Zebala’s team finished restoring the mural they remounted it slightly higher than the original mural was mounted so there would be less water uptake to prevent paint damage. The restored Pinkney mural should now last for an estimated 30 years. A protective varnish coating was also added, which will allow any graffiti that may be tagged on the mural to be removed easily.
It’s important for artists to find a wall that is dry, is not a south-facing, and preferable has some type of overhang. High quality paint is also preferable and survives longer
Getting the chance to work so intimately with the mural over the course of the past nine weeks has allowed Zebala and her team to get to know Pinkney’s mural on a much deeper level than the average passerby.
“Probably the most precious thing is that we get to sit really close to it and touch it, the way that no one else is allowed to,” Zebala said. “After restoring a couple of these panels we really feel like we have kind of understood what the artist wanted to do and how he painted.”