Graffiti artists in L.A. and elsewhere are paying tribute to the King of Pop and his legacy with both colorful murals and simple messages.

By Yvonne Villarreal
Michael Jackson stands in his signature pose: hips popped to the right, left arm raised in the air. His gloved right hand sits on his hip and out of his mouth he exclaims, “Hee-hee!” It’s the King of Pop as immortalized in the parking lot of Mid-West Wholesale Lighting on Hollywood Boulevard by L.A.-based artists “Jersey Joe” / “RIME” and “Augor.”

The pair incorporated Jackson’s image into a rough graffiti sketch by New Zealand-based artist “Askew,” and the portrait, although cartoonish in appearance and featuring a medley of Jackson’s trademark looks — styled hair, red leather jacket, sequined glove and tight pants — realistically captures the legacy of the famous (at times, infamous) pop star.

“It was all very sudden,” said 30-year-old “Jersey Joe” / “RIME.” “We were working on this sketch as part of The Exchange,” a project through which top-notch graffiti artists swap work, “and a friend of mine called and told me Michael had died. Ten minutes later, we were adding his image to the piece.” The mural is just one of a number of tributes from street artists that are popping up on walls across the United States and afar in the wake of Jackson’s death June 25.

In Tulsa, Okla., an artist named “Big N” painted a likeness of the young Jackson on the side of a building near 11th and Mingo, adding the message “Rest in Peace, King of Pop” next to the image. In Tokyo, a side-view caricature of Jackson pays homage to the late singer.

He can even be found on the side of the Kokua Market building in Moiliili, Hawaii; there, 808 Urban’s design showcases Jackson with an open shirt flowing away from his body, his hat slightly cocked to cover his face as a spotlight shines on him.

“For us, as artists, our contribution to his legacy is visual,” said “Prime,” founder of 808 Urban, a group of artists working in low-income neighborhoods. “Michael made a huge impact on the world. People have turned the mural into a vigil. They go there to pay tribute, to see an image, since we don’t have him here. It adds comfort to the community to see him.”

Closer to home, on Melrose Avenue, near Heliotrope Drive, local artist “RABBI” of dtladesigns painted a realistic portrait of Jackson from his “Thriller” days — sporting a red leather jacket, brunet curls cascading over his forehead — with the words “Rest in Peace.”

“He made such great music,” said “RABBI,” 24, of Los Angeles. “The Michael Jackson who made you dance, who made you sing along . . . that Michael Jackson has been gone for a while. I wanted to capture that Mike. Everyone wanted to be that guy.”

The piece, done with spray paint, took roughly eight hours to complete.

“I hope when people see it, they just smile and think about the days when they were just dancing to his music,” “RABBI” said. “People don’t do enough of that.”

Motorists driving down La Brea near San Vicente Boulevard might catch “Mr. Brainwash’s” contribution. There’s no sequined glove. No portrait of the icon. The black and white mural simply reads, “MICHAEL JACKSON: YOU ROCKED OUR WORLD,” with “The King of Pop” splashed across the bottom right corner in red paint.

Jackson, certainly, isn’t the first icon to be immortalized in such a fashion. Portraits of Marilyn Monroe, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X can be found on alleyways and buildings throughout Los Angeles.

“Murals are, in some way, the autobiography of a city,” said Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which has received a few Jackson mural requests. “When someone dies, you often see memorials happen right away. Art is cathartic that way. What we’re seeing with these murals is an incredible outpouring of appreciation and support for a singer who influenced many peoples’ lives.

“People are not only remembering him through the murals, they’re reliving memories they have in relationship to his music.”


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