RESEDA >> Michelangelo and Albert Einstein have been resurrected in Reseda thanks to the creativity of muralist and San Fernando Valley artist Levi Ponce.
After transforming wall after wall into a public work of art in the northeast San Fernando Valley, the digital artist who paints murals as a hobby now has his eye set on this largely immigrant community and its neighbors in the west San Fernando Valley.
Ponce, 26, is perhaps best known for being the force behind “Mural Mile” in his native Pacoima. The stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard includes more than a dozen striking murals by him and other artists that are credited with helping to breathe new life and instilling pride in traditionally overlooked neighborhoods.
With Mural Mile, “the East Valley artists network really grew, became concrete, whereas before we were all kind of floating around,” Ponce, with paint-splattered sun glasses, said Sunday. “I think that whole mural thing tied us all together and that's what I'm trying to do in Reseda, bring another wave of public art to the Valley. Eventually, I want to do it across the entire Valley.”
In August, Ponce painted a Tribute to Michelangelo featuring some of the Italian artist's classic works, such as The Pieta, on the north wall of Continental Art Supplies on Reseda Boulevard. On Sunday, the Sylmar resident was putting the finishing touches on a massive portraiture of Einstein on a back wall of the Magnolia Science Academy on Sherman Way. Both projects were done in collaboration with the Reseda Neighborhood Council and a San Fernando Valley art group called 11:11 A Creative Collective.
“Levi is without a doubt one of the most important artists in Los Angeles right now, “ said Kevin Taylor, chairman of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. “With the work he's doing, his skill level, talent, the speed with which he works and the positive messages he brings to his murals, what he's bringing to communities that need his work ... To have the opportunity to have him painting here in Reseda is a huge honor, and the murals that he's leaving here are treasures.”
And for Ponce, who took the bus from Pacoima to attend Cleveland High School in Reseda and lived here for seven years as a young adult, this diverse community holds a special place in his heart.
“I don't like that it's a freeway desert, despite Tom Petty,” he said, referring to the musician's song “Free Fallin'” which mentions Reseda as a place where “there's a freeway running through the yard.”
But “I like the diversity. I think when you go to places like West Hills, it's all white people. When you go over to the east ... it's all brown people. Here, you've got Asians, you've got Middle Easterners. There's a heavy Vietnamese community here. ... It's such a melting pot of cultures, it's amazing.”
In February, Ponce, who specializes in portraits, is planning to paint Paladino's Valley Music and Sports Lounge in Tarzana — probably with musicians — from “head to toe.” He's also in discussions to create murals in North Hollywood and is “pretty much booked” for the coming year.
The Cal State Northridge graduate who studied animation enjoys tapping fledgling artists such as Juan Reyes, 19, to help him with his work.
“He's from the projects in Pacoima,” Ponce said, noting that Reyes just completed an impressive mural at Sylmar High School. “I work with him a lot. Everyone does because we all want him to get out of there.”
Ponce has painted for as long as he can remember. There's a photo of him as a 4-year-old on his website painting a shop for his dad. Hector Ponce, a Salvadoran immigrant who now lives in Acton, is primarily a commercial sign painter who has won awards for murals he's painted around Los Angeles.
Levi Ponce is receiving attention outside the United States too, particularly in Spanish-speaking countries, and was recently featured in a newspaper in El Salvador. His dream, he said, would be to take his work “all over the world.”
But he's especially partial to Latin America, he said, “because I feel that audience has given me more love and support than anywhere else.”
On Sunday, Northridge resident Giselle Quinonez brought her 7-year-old son, Martin Carpenter, to the site where Levi Ponce was finishing his Einstein mural.
“I've been kind of stalking him — not him but his work — in Pacoima,” Quinonez said after she took a photo of her son in front of the mural. “I found out they were right down the street from me, so I said: ‘I have to come out and see it before he finishes.' It's awesome. I have chills.”
For more information, go to leviponce.com.