By Jennifer Schlueter
A close friend recommended I check out Levi Ponce’s art (www.leviponce.com). Thrilled about what I saw, we set up an interview at the location of his next mural on a Sunday.
In the afternoon, I arrive at Plaza de la Raza in Lincoln Heights, where Levi and his crew had already been working for two hours on a memorial painting for Mexican –American starlet Jenni Rivera who died in a plane crash 2012.
Approximately a dozen people stand around the shaded spot where Levi is painting alongside his father and a few other artists he had invited to join, including Rivera’s son Mike.
While Levi’s father is coloring the yellow flowers at the bottom of a painting, Levi stands on a ladder shading Rivera’s face. The bilingual artist tells me that he has been painting since he was 4 and that he has “always been the kid with a paint brush in his hand.” Levi idolizes his father with whom he regularly paints, and legendary Classics such as Salvador Dali, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. When I ask him if he prefers realistic styles, he says no; he loves everything that looks good: sculpture, graffiti, pop art, etc.
In 2011, the artist, who works in visual effects for his day time job in the film industry, started to use his art to bring the community of his hometown Pacoima together. When he paints, he invites everyone to join. Together with many other volunteers, he transformed graffiti marked walls of his neighborhood into what is now called the “Mural Mile.” The strip on Van Nuys Boulevard between Arleta and Herrick Avenue now hosts more than 20 murals depicting Levi’s interpretation of Mona Lisa, a tribute to Michelangelo, several portraits, etc.
According to a Huffington post article, Kevin Taylor, chairman of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, praises Levi’s and his work: “Levi is without a doubt one of the most important artists in Los Angeles right now, “ he said. “With the work he’s doing, his skill level, talent, the speed with which he works and the positive messages he brings to his murals, what he’s bringing to communities that need his work … To have the opportunity to have him painting here in Reseda is a huge honor, and the murals that he’s leaving here are treasures.”
However, the Cal State Northridge graduate does not limit his murals to the San Fernando Valley. With his art, he wants to “paint cities, not walls,” as he says. His murals and paintings are all over Los Angeles, but also on the east coast. His eyes light up when Levi tells me about his ultimate goal to tour the world while painting, but especially in Brazil, where they have “a mean street art game,” as he describes it.
When I ask the artist for a message that he wants to get out, he says: “You don’t need your city’s permission if you want to do something positive.” He is not interested in starting his own organization to help communities, but would rather have existing organizations work closer together instead of competing with them by starting his own. After all, “I just want to paint,” he states.
Levi does not get paid for his murals; he finances them out of his own pocket. By painting them, he not only beautifies communities, but also engages them to work together. More information about Levi Ponce and his art can be found on www.leviponce.com .