Hermosa Beach Mural

Muralist Timothy Robert Smith at work on his mural which will be unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Watermans in Hermosa Beach. (photo by Michael Hixon)

Before doing the research for Hermosa Beach's ninth mural, artist Timothy Robert Smith said he knew more about the punk rock scene than he did about the city's counterculture roots.

But, after extensive research for his latest project on the side wall of Watermans on Pier Plaza, Smith said, he's learned a lot about Hermosa's bohemian past.

Smith's mural "Beatnik Alley" merges three landmarks in the city's history—the Insomniac coffeehouse, Either/Or Bookstore and the Lighthouse jazz club—into "one mythical place."

It's a spot where a young Miles Davis performs at the same time Leonard Wibberley is writing his latest novel.

"Beatnik Alley" will be unveiled at a free event Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. A reception at 6:30 p.m. will follow at Watermans as a fundraiser for the Hermosa Beach Murals Project. Tickets start at $80.

Smith, from Dana Point, describes his work as multi-dimensionalism, an art form which connects events through time, but focuses on one cinematic frame. 

“It’s kind of looking through the eyes of yourself, your neighbor, the person across the street you never met, all at the same time," said Smith, who received help from his wife Yuki Toy on the original sketches for the mural.

"It’s similar to the idea of cubism, but I explore the same ideas in a more realistic way,” said the artist. “It's meant to have a lot of secrets where you spend... time figuring out what’s going on."

What's obvious in the mural are depictions of:

  • Young Linda Ronstadt as a waitress at the Insomniac before she become a singing star
  • Folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott who performed at Insomniac
  • Legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
  • Howard Rumsey, who helped create a hub for West Coast jazz in 1949 with his Lighthouse All-Stars
  • Gloria Cadena, who still books jazz at the Lighthouse

Controversy over reputations

But purposely omitted from the mural are writers Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg.

Kerouac did not have a significant local connection, and mural organizers tried, but failed to get permission to use Bukowski's image from his ex-wife who lives in San Pedro, according to Smith.

An image of Ginsberg, one of the best known writers of the Beat Generation, had been included in the mural. He was depicted reading his best known work "Howl" at the Insomniac.

But, Steve Izant, president of the Mural Project's board, said organizers received complaints after people began researching Ginsberg in Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, Ginsberg was strongly anti-war, he was out as a gay man and he was a Communist.

But his Wikipedia entry also documents Ginsberg's association with the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group which worked to abolish age-of-consent laws that criminalized sexual involvement with minors.

“I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that I would want to have a beer with, but in his own right he was prominent,” Izant said of Ginsberg.

Stories on why Ginsberg joined NAMBLA vary, from an act of protest as a violation of his First Amendment rights by the FBI to those who believe he actually might have been a pedophile.

“(Being a) pedophile is a classic thing that it's just not something you can intelligently debate in public society,” Izant said. “Although we think he was representative of the Beat Generation, we clearly understand some of the public's concern and our murals are public murals. There has to be some sensitivity and selection there.”

Izant said the board also felt they needed to be sensitive and supportive to Watermans. So they approached Smith about removing Ginsberg from the mural.

“If there’s some looming controversy about some guy that people identify as a pedophile, whether he is or not, having that there is really distracts from any theme that I’m trying to express,” Smith said. “There’s also the risk that somebody would tag it with the word pedophile. I don’t want to have to constantly worry about that.”

Ginsberg was replaced by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. They also added Bob Hare, the founder of Insomniac, who “should have been there in the first place,” according to Izant.

Smith added the white bearded man depicted in the mural is not Ginsberg, but Leonard Wibberley, who published under the name of Patrick O'Connor and was the prolific author of “The Mouse That Roared.”

Gearing up for 10

Founded by Chuck Sheldon in 2009, the Hermosa Beach Murals Project's goal is to fund 10 murals in 10 years. Previous murals have depicted everything from beach volleyball culture to last year's ode to punk music.

The Murals Project is privately funded. According to Izant, last year's mural cost approximately $26,000 and they need to raise money for the 10th and final mural in 2020.

“We immediately start worrying about next year... it's 10 and then we disband,” Izant said.

The reception at Watermans, which also includes sale of giclees of Smith's work, goes completely to fundraise for next year's mural, which theme has not been chosen.

Pre-sale prices are $80 per person or $140 for a couple. Prices at the evening of the event will be $100 per person or $170 per couple.

Watermans, located at 22 Pier Ave., will be serving appetizers and two free drink tickets with each ticket.

For more information about tickets, visit hermosamurals.org.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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