REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — The new landowner of the Redondo Beach power plant has started a project to beautify the drab concrete walls bordering the century-old generating station, while at the same time threatening to demolish a 30-year-old mural that is among the largest art installations in the region.
On July 12, the first phase of the Redondo Walls project went up on the walls bordering the AES Redondo power plant, including ten murals from Southland-based artists to launch the outdoor exhibition.
“I’ve just been looking to bring art to Redondo in different ways,” said Leo Pustilnikov, who purchased the power plant with designs on redevelopment. “We were planning on starting in March when a little thing called COVID hit.”
Pustilnikov is working with L.A. gallery owners Jason Ostro of Gabba Gallery in Rampart Village, and Shlome Hayun of MTLE Studios to produce the project. Ostro is known for the Gabba Alley Project, which has painted more than 110 murals in alleys across L.A., focusing on spots in Historic Filipinotown and Echo Park.
“The (Redondo) walls have always been dark with nothing to them, or a little bit of graffiti covered up by the city,” Ostro said. “We said, let’s do the blight-to-bright project we’ve been doing all over L.A. and see if it works there.”
The original plan was to start with 30 murals, but the COVID crisis forced them to pivot and start small. The community reaction, Ostro said, has been a boost. When finished, the project plans to include about 120 artists over 160 sections of the wall along Herondo Street.
The goal of the project is to be inclusive and neighborhood-friendly: nothing sexual, nothing violent, nothing overly political. The goal, Ostro said, is to create a happy, vibrant place for the community to gather. Artists are given the freedom to do what they wish, and the supplies are provided to them for free.
This is the latest of Pustilnikov’s efforts to support art within the Redondo community – and the only one that’s successfully launched thus far. Last year, Pustilnikov announced he would host the locally-beloved CA 101 art exhibition, produced by Friends of the Redondo Beach Arts. Not long before the show, the venue was hastily changed from his space at the Redondo Pier to an unrelated area, with no explanation.
Also last year, Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand posted photos of himself hanging out with Thierry Guetta, an internationally-known street artist also known as Mr. Brainwash. Pustilnikov soon admitted to having brought the two together in the hopes of helping to send the pier into a new era, covered in street art.
That was before his relationship with the city and its mayor fell cold. Pustilnikov was initially a firm ally of Brand but angered city officials when he withdrew an offer to sell the half of the 51-acre power plant site to the city for parkland.
The future of the site will be decided by the state water board, which is considering keeping postponing the closure of the Redondo plant well beyond it’s planned shutdown in December.
It might be considered ironic that Pustilnikov is sponsoring this public art initiative while at the same time seeking to demolish the largest piece of public art in Redondo Beach: the 95-foot-tall, 586-foot-long Wyland Whaling Wall, a painted mural depicting the migration of gray whales along the Redondo coastline.
Muralist Robert Wyland finished the piece in 1991, covering a great expanse of the power plant’s west-facing facade. The work was commissioned by the plant’s then-owner, Southern California Edison. (Edison sold the plant to AES in 2000; AES will continue operating the plant until its closure under a lease agreement with Pustilnikov.)
According to the original agreement, the mural was not to be damaged or destroyed until 2011, 20 years after its completion.
This year, soon after he closed on the property, Pustilnikov reached out to the Wyland Foundation by email and phone call to discuss the future of the mural.
In an email, Wyland Foundation President Steve Creech told Pustilnikov that the foundation believes the mural is protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which grants federal copyright protection to certain works of art. Under VARA, it is possible for an artist to sue the owner of a physical painting (or mural) for destroying their work.
In his email to Pustilnikov, Creech said that this could be a win-win – that parts of the mural could be preserved in a new development, and suggested that Pustilnikov consider supporting the Wyland Foundation’s nonprofit work aimed at preserving marine life.
In a return email, Pustilnikov called Creech’s proposal “offensive,” arguing that Wyland’s agreement with SCE waived the artist’s rights after the 20 year period was up and declared he would paint over the mural.
“Those murals are the voice of our foundation. This is how we put the message out about marine conservation,” Creech said. “It’s a surprise to us that, all of a sudden, he’s an art connoisseur and that these murals are starting to pop up.”
In an interview, Pustilnikov said he refuses to be held hostage over the Wyland mural.
“That’s not how I do business, and not how I like to be treated,” he said.
So, barring some sort of agreement between lawyers for the two sides, the mural may come down as soon as late August – which might not be the worst thing in the world, according to Chantal Toporow.
She’s a long-standing patron of arts in Redondo, the president of Friends of Redondo Beach Arts, and a longtime volunteer member of various advisory commissions in Redondo Beach. Currently, she is a member of the Planning Commission. (She also made it explicitly clear that she’s speaking on behalf of herself, not any of the organizations she takes part in.)
“(The Wyland mural) feels as if it’s had it’s run…I think people are hanging on to the old,” Toporow said. “I want a project that’s long-lasting and low-maintenance. Paint fades with time.”
That goes for Pustilnikov’s eventual project as well – she hopes it “borders more on quality and elevating the construction in the city,” she said.
Brother and sister Jesse and Julissa Woodard were walking down Herondo Street on Wednesday, taking in the murals. Jesse Woodard is an art enthusiast – and a cat enthusiast. He freely shows off his tattoos of his cats on his torso (the Meowfia, he says) and laughs. The tattoos are just a few of many pieces of art inked onto his body.
“I’m always interested in seeing new artwork and this just pops, it brings so much life to this area,” he said.
“You get to see everyone’s different way of thinking and their artistic skills. It’s better than just a bland wall driving by; it catches your eye,” Julissa Woodard said.
“It gives you inspiration if you’re a fellow artist or anybody in any craft,” Jesse Woodard added.
Paint fades with time; Ostro knows that, and he embraces it.
“My goal is to make the walls the most beautiful thing I can make it to give Redondo something special,” Ostro said. “It can grow and change and morph over time, and like the Wyland wall, it fades out.
“Once it does, well, street art is fleeting, and it can change into something new and exciting.”