Painting a Revolution

A version of this article appears on “Writing on the Wall,” a section on KCET’s website dedicated to L.A. street art. You can read the original article here.

If the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” had a say in selecting any other city to house her iconic expression, Pacoima might have made the cut.

The neighborhood in the northeast San Fernando Valley may not be as romantic as Paris, but its heart can be seen on Van Nuys Boulevard between San Fernando Road and Foothill Boulevard. The stretch is quickly becoming a mural mile where young artists are connecting the streets to art.

It’s as if muralist Levi Ponce, 25, put a name on something that had already begun when he called his latest work “Pacoima’s Art Revolution.” The 22-by-24 foot piece, a reinvented Mona Lisa wearing a charro’s sombrero and weaponry, is ready for a fight. “She has a rifle at her back. She doesn’t have it at hand, but she very well could,” says Ponce.

Levi Ponce labels his Mona Lisa mural as his father, Hector Ponce, adds finishing touches. Photo by Javier Martinez.

Ponce’s fight is centered on beautifying the streets he grew up on. He’s made it a personal mission to paint 12 murals in 2012, all self-funded and rooted in his hometown of Pacoima, or, as he puts it, “the heart of this east Valley project.”

The plan is working. He’s painted five murals already, each with their own connection to the community. “Most painters try to paint something internal,” says Ponce. “I try to paint what everybody else would if they had my ability.”

Other artists have come with the same spirit as Ponce. Kristy Sandoval, 29, and Ramiro “Rah” Hernandez, 27, have a work in progress outside of Myke’s Cafe on Van Nuys Boulevard, near San Fernando Road. They plan to paint a portrait of black activist Assata Shakur farther down the boulevard. A local graffiti crew led by “Mute” collaborated with Ponce on his Frida Kahlo work and, coincidentally, added to an existing image that had been painted years prior by Hector Ponce, Levi’s father.

“When you see how one paradigm influences another…it all becomes interconnected,” says Manny Velazquez, a muralist who has painted dozens of murals in the east Valley over the last 30 years. Velazquez has been paying close attention to the “new blood” — muralists under 30 who have created a buzz in L.A. street art circles — and sees parallels between the northeast Valley muralists today and those he ran with in the 1970s. The fervor and individual sacrifice for the whole is similar. “We pay out of our pocket to empower, engage the community and raise the conscience level through murals,” says Velazquez. “It’s the medicine that Pacoima needs. We need a shot in the arm of culture.”

That cultural vaccine is spreading rapidly. Van Nuys Boulevard now has six murals that didn’t exist seven months ago. Local photographers, painters, videographers and bloggers are coming together to feed off the energy. And the everyday residents of Pacoima are contributing, even if in the simplest of ways. Like allowing spectators to get a better glimpse of the Mona Lisa that now hovers over your front yard.

“There’s a connection that we have,” says Rah. “Our conscience is bringing us to the realization that this is a movement now and no longer my agenda as an individual artist.”

That agenda is set to spread throughout the San Fernando Valley as muralists inevitably spill into neighboring cities and connect with others rooted in the same conviction. Always with Pacoima in mind. Always with heart.




written by

i am san fernando is April Aguirre, a writer born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. April bounced around the Valley throughout her upbringing and lived outside of California for a quick minute but always felt most at home in the city of San Fernando. To get at April's heart, FedEx puppies to her door, offer In-N-Out cheeseburgers by the dozen or introduce her to a beer tastier than the last.

12 Responses to "Painting a Revolution"

  1. Mural to be Unveiled | i am san fernando. says:

    […] mentioned this project in my article for KCET about the recent proliferation of murals on Van Nuys Blvd. Whether you’ve had a chance to see it in progress, or you have yet to see any of it, stop by […]

  2. New Tiger Mural at SFHS | i am san fernando. says:

    […] called Crossroads, contacted community organizer/supermom Angie Castro for help. She got muralist Levi Ponce on the project and asked others in the SFV to help out, like artist Erica […]

  3. melissa says:

    This is amazing ! whenever I cross by these murals I always feel a sense of pride knowing they’re in Pacoima 🙂 great work guys!

  4. Good Day L.A. Takes Over Pacoima | i am san fernando. says:

    […] been much ado about Levi Ponce’s many murals along Van Nuys Boulevard, including his recently completed  wall at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and his latest work […]

  5. Mapping the Murals of Pacoima | i am san fernando. says:

    […] D. Danny Trejo: Van Nuys Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue (on the other side of the Mona Lisa) […]

  6. The Women on the Wall: Beautiful, Sexist or Both? | i am san fernando. says:

    […] recently have in the past year along Pacoima’s “Mural Mile.” It’s another vision created by Levi Ponce with assistance from active community members and artists, such as Manny Velazquez, Kristy Sandoval […]

  7. the women on the wall: beautiful, sexist or both? | El Hormiguero says:

    […] have in the past year along Pacoima’s “Mural Mile.” It’s another vision created by Levi Ponce with assistance from active community members and artists, such asManny Velazquez, Kristy […]

  8. A Manifesto for Murals | i am san fernando. says:

    […] been talking nothing but murals lately, but that’s what tends to happen when something of an art movement happens before your very eyes. Guess what? I’m not the only one taking notice. Major players in the mural community and […]

  9. More Murals in Progress | i am san fernando. says:

    […] and Rah Hernandez as they painted Kristy’s vision of a woman releasing birds. That Friday, Levi Ponce, Manny Velazquez and others took a break from painting the adjoining wall, which is filled with […]

  10. Murals on Van Nuys and Bradley Now Completed | i am san fernando. says:

    […] bring you two more murals on adjoining walls in Pacoima. The murals, headed by Kristy Sandoval and Levi Ponce, were featured in KCET’s article, “A New Generation of San Fernando Valley Muralists […]


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