Mammoth 10,000-square-foot ‘Rushing Waters’ mural offers a stunning ‘reflection’ of the Pacoima community and its history – Daily News

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Levi Ponce and his team create a 25 foot by 400 foot mural that celebrates the history of Pacoima. Video by Nicholas Hernandez

The next time you are driving westbound on the 118 Freeway, keep an eye out for exit 44B. It is your ticket to see the latest addition to Pacoima’s growing gallery of homegrown public art.

If you do choose to ride down that off-ramp, and you settle your foot onto the brakes to await your turn to drive onto San Fernando Road, you’ll find a panoramic view of an oasis spread out before you in 2D, all set within an industrial environment.

Even as your eyes are drawn to the woman standing at center, tipping over a bowl of water into the landscape, look for the clumps of blue Forget-me-Nots, the majestic California Oaks and the airplane flying above the green mountains.

Painted onto the side of an expansive factory building next to the train tracks, they are just some of the Easter eggs thought-up especially for Pacoima, and east San Fernando Valley residents, to discover.

The flowers are a symbol used by the Armenian community, to remember the genocide they fled from, and that brought many of them to settle into their second home, the San Fernando Valley.

The trees reach back to a time when oaks were in abundance in Southern California, and was among the main sources of food and material for the residents of the area.

And the woman is representative of the Tataviam tribe, an indigenous group that calls the northeast San Fernando Valley home.

Other parts of the mural reference other local landmarks, but from urban and industrial sources. They call to mind Whiteman Airport, as represented by the airplane, as well as Hansen Dam, the Sylmar Aqueduct, and the curving freeways, like the one that delivered you to see this mural.

Titled “Rushing Waters,” the 10,000-square-foot work was inspired by the area’s historical and cultural roots, as well as its present and future, said mural artist Levi Ponce.

The theme is “water,” he said, but he was hesitant to say more on the mural’s meaning.

“I don’t want to put up walls with my explanation of the mural, and limit people’s imagination,” he said

A product of Pacoima himself, Ponce said he first set his sights on painting the industrial wall at San Fernando Road and Paxton Street five years ago.

But at the time it seemed like a daunting task. It required permission from different sources, and sufficient funding, said Ponce, who in 2012 instigated a project to fill a 3-mile long stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard with murals painted by local artists, even as Los Angeles city’s mural ban was still in place.

About four years ago, the occupant of the building, American Range, gave Ponce the go-ahead to paint the wall. He then sought help from local elected officials to get onto the Metrolink property, but ran into some difficulty at first.

But he eventually got the blessing of a local official. With the wheel-greasing work of local Los Angeles councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who helped identify funding and get Metrolink to give Ponce access to paint the wall, he was able to put his plan into motion.

And once things started, everything happened fast. Metrolink only gave Ponce 15 days to be on their property, and limited his team to 10 artists.

The mural was painted over about 12 days, give or take, over the course of this month, and was set to be officially unveiled Monday, Nov. 25.

To do a mural of this scale in that amount of time, and with a smaller team than usual, Ponce last year recruited his then-colleague at Disney Imagineering, Jacques Dupuy, to help on the design of the mural. Dupuy’s work is a departure from Ponce’s more detailed, realistic style, but it worked for the situation. The mural has a more geometric style that is easily vectored, and quicker to execute, he said.

Ponce could not help but make a reference to the Disney connection.

“You don’t have to buy a $200 ticket to see this one,” he said. “This one is for free for everybody here in Pacoima.”

Ponce, who spent several years at Disney contributing artwork to movies and theme park rides, including as part of the recently opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, noted that he left the Imagineering team last November and is now doing mural work full time.

But aside from the Disney link, the mural itself was painted with the help of several local artists, including some from the San Fernando Valley.

Ponce’s team includes Valley-native and painter Erica Friend, illustrator Cristian Cardenas, Valley-native and graffiti artist Gore, muralist and graphic-designer Hector “Tetris” Arias, graffiti artist Jose Javier, muralist Juan Pablo Reyes, mural photographer Lisa Lee; graffiti artist Mighk Rivera; tribute muralist and graffiti artist Red Ortiz. Many of these artists also documented the mural-painting process on their Instagram accounts (which are linked).

Ponce said that developing the mural also took some research, and he said he consulted with the adviser to the Tataviam tribe chief to make sure the woman who is serving as the centerpiece of the mural is an accurate representation of their culture.

He said the woman’s grass skirt, sea-shell jewelry, and woven basket and hat were incorporated as a result of that research.

Ponce said he felt it was important to adhere to the local culture and history of where the mural is displayed.

“I rarely paint for myself,” he said. “I try and paint something that is appropriate for the area that I’m painting in. So I often borrow from that area, whether it’s buildings, places or people. I try and have the mural be a reflection of the community in which it lives.”

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