This season, some of us Southern California natives at UGG® HQ are beyond excited over the artist featured in the collective. He’s known for his enormous breathtaking murals showcased across buildings in Los Angeles, which we’ve been so used to seeing as we are (inevitably) stuck in traffic.
His paintings have become permanent landmarks across several buildings in Downtown LA, with his most recent project being his repainting of Ed Ruscha. We were able to catch up with Kent to talk more about his process, outlook on why he’s in love with painting big, and why his connection to Los Angeles is so special.
Your larger-than-life murals are extremely iconic and jaw-dropping. We’d love to hear more about your process – from initial inspiration to the final product.
There are various people who have inspired me throughout my life. I’d like to paint monuments to all of them. I will be able to achieve a tiny fraction. First comes the site, usually. The wall and its surroundings dictate the figure and the composition of the figure on the wall. I do sketches of the possibilities. Then I need good photographs of the figure and the pose. If possible I need to photograph the subject myself. That’s how it has usually been. Then I do more finished studies, usually in pencil, of what I want to do on the wall. Next, I paint the mural in sections in my studio, usually 3’X4′ sections on a special thin, absorbent but tough material called polytab. Finally, I install the many painted sections to the wall and carefully touch it all up.
Why have you concentrated on downtown LA for your artwork?
I have painted about 30 wall murals, mostly throughout Southern CA, I guess because this is where I live and I think of myself as a Folk Artist, but also a Regionalist like my heroes Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. I’ve also painted murals up in Montecito (south of Santa Barbara), Big Sur, San Bernardino, Philadelphia and Cleveland. My murals here have been painted in City Terrace, Monterey Park, Montebello, Echo Park, Hollywood, La Mirada, Torrance, Inglewood, Los Feliz, Pico/Union and various other sections of LA. Many of those that are known are or have been in Downtown LA – The 5-story Bride & Groom, the first 6-story Ed Ruscha Monument, the 2nd Ruscha 4-stories up, the first Freeway Lady mural, the Gary Lloyd Monument, the 2 Olympic Murals, the 8-story, 3-wall LA Chamber Orchestra mural and the 3 murals inside Bob Hope Patriotic Hall. Downtown LA has been kind of my home since about 1971 when I painted Steve McQueen.
Do other cityscapes inspire you as much as This is UGGdoes?
It’s just that during my time here I’ve noticed that Los Angeles has been the city so many people with talent have been drawn to because of the film industry. It also has a kind of personality. It is a forgiving place. Creative people are often vulnerable and have been judged by their failures elsewhere. Sometimes they have become damaged goods and fearful of failing, of being laughed at. Here you can fail a dozen times but when you finally do it right everyone stands up and applauds you. Maybe it’s because they all know what it’s like. It just seems like that to me.
If we had to choose one product that defines our brand, we’d choose the Classic Boot. If you had to choose one mural that defined Kent Twitchell, which one would it be?
I think it would be my recent Monument to Ed Ruscha. It’s a singular figure, looking down at us from above. We see his eyes and his hands, the tools of his creativity. He is casting a shadow. I like when the clouds pass by behind his head. No artist surpasses Ruscha as a young person coming here from the midwest and following his own track. He helped define the art world of LA just by being himself. I painted him first in 1978 when he was 41 and he was in his late 70s when he posed for me for the painting now, a permanent landmark on the American Hotel in the Arts District in DTLA.
You mentioned that you paint big because “it makes you feel small, but also good.” Can you elaborate more on that “feeling” you want to resonate with your viewers? How do you want your murals to make them feel good?
I lived in England through the early ’60s because I was a very young artist attached to Headquarters 3rd Air Force in London. I used to love traveling around the country and especially visiting the ancient castles and cathedrals. There was something about the way you feel when you bend your head back and look up at the spires of the cathedrals, the way they stood against the sky, the dramatic moving, changing clouds of the British Isles that had inspired Constable and Turner. You are never quite the same after that, after bending back and looking up.