Visitors to the new West Hollywood Library will encounter a huge mural by artist Shepard Fairey, called “West Hollywood Peace Elephant,” dominating a huge wall of the building. The enormous artwork measures 70 by 106 feet and features a large elephant holding a flower from which red and gold rays of sun emanate. A large dove also figures in the piece.
The mural was unveiled on Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the parking lot of the library, at a party sponsored by Cadillac, Vanity Fair and Museum of Contemporary Art, which formed a partnership to commission the artwork as well as pieces by the artists Retna and Kenny Scharf. The project is an offshoot of MOCA’s recent show "Art in the Streets."
Fairey talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the work plus an additional piece that was commissioned by the city of West Hollywood inside the $64-million complex, located at 626 N. San Vicente Boulevard. Designed by Johnson Favaro, the library has won raves from architecture critics for its sleek, curved exterior and alternating bands of floor-to-ceiling glass offering generous natural light.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why an elephant?
Shepard Fairey: The core values of West Hollywood were something I did research on. I wanted the work to be appropriate for the philosophy of the city. Peace, freedom, creativity, tolerance. I might be paraphrasing slightly, were all general ideas that came up. So I decided that peace would be a big theme of the mural that I did inside and I carried that to what I did outside. An elephant holding a flower is a pro-peace image.
THR: You’ve incorporated landmarks like the famous Emser Tile building into the indoor murals. What are some of the other recognizable West Hollywood sights in that work?
Fairey: The Sunset Tower which is a really great deco building. The Roxy which I think is a really cool theater. There’s the Schindler House which is less known. It’s tucked away and a really cool piece of architecture. The Pacific Design Center is in there.
THR: Were you able to get the new Red Building in there?
Fairey: It’s just the blue building but it’s executed in gold. I think that cluster [of the Red, Blue and Green structure] is pretty impressive. But it’s a little maybe plain for my personal taste, like if I was going to build a building it probably wouldn’t look like that the way the surfaces are reflective.
THR: What do you think of the library?
Fairey: A lot of public buildings end up feeling very sterile. It’s very elegant and very organic. And there’s a botanical motif going through the entire thing. It made it very easy to connect to the whole thing because I use a lot of flowers in my work.
THR: Is the mural gonna stick around?
Fairey: Well, they are only guaranteed to keep them for a year but they may keep them longer since it was really time consuming to do. What I think they do is they play it safe. They say, ‘Well, we’ll keep it for at least a year.’ So they have an out if everybody says they hate it or they will keep it longer if everyone likes it. You know politicians have to qualify it. But honestly everyone involved with the library project has been very cool and they have gone to bat for art. The good thing is they are getting a good response.
THR: What else are you working on?
Fairey: I have a show in London in the spring and a show in New York. I might be doing a project over on La Brea next month that’s a fairly big thing. It’s potentially right across from American Rag, a mural on that building there.
THR: If you had the opportunity to do a mural on any famous landmark in the world, from Grand Central Station to the Louvre, what would it be?
Fairey: I think the side of the Staples Center where you could see it from the freeway, where there’s a big free piece of art for everyone who has to sit in their car in traffic. Something to make the commute a little better. There are a lot of amazing landmarks where it would be a coup if it were about my ego but those things probably are better left alone.
THR: What books do you recommend everyone go and check out of the library?
Fairey: I think everybody oughta read 1984 for sure. Everyone who likes art should check out Rauschenberg/Art and Life. Everybody oughta read To Kill a Mockingbird. It sounds cliche but they are classics for a reason.