There’s a semi-public plaza behind the apartment building where I live in downtown Los Angeles, a thoroughfare that’s well-trafficked each day but tucked from plain sight, in between Flower and Figueroa Streets. A few weeks ago, a long ugly stretch of wall at the rear of the plaza started to turn colors: A makeover was in progress, it seemed. This is not something the landlord would typically invest in; the mural emerging was anything but corporate, and was, in fact, a bit trippy! So I went to chat up the artist to see what was up.
Jason Luper is his name. Imported from San Diego for this express purpose. Raised outside Tampa, he trained at the well-regarded Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida and later relocated to San Diego for family reasons. Accustomed to painting on canvas and exhibiting in galleries, he got a commission for a mural, and then another, and suddenly, he’s a mural artist.
To date, he’s done about 20, from a pizza parlor (you can imagine what that design included) to a closet for a former submarine captain (you can’t imagine–that was a Lord of The Rings theme.)
“I’m fortunate. Murals allow me to survive as an artist,” said Luper, who sounds like most artists when he says: “I wish I could just paint and rent and food would show up somehow.” He admires the murals that dot the landscape around Los Angeles. “I wish I could go put murals in places that really need it, just to benefit the society I live in–that would be great,” he said. The downside to a commission: You can’t do anything you want. The upside: You get paid.
As an artist used to showing in galleries, he takes satisfaction in knowing the commissioned work is seen by many, and beautifies its surroundings. He gets to be outdoors for much of the work, and most clients offer at least some creative latitude. For this mural on Bunker Hill, “It’s been great. I’ve been able to paint it like it’s on my easel more or less.”
Except for nosy passers-by like me. He talks about the quest to find meaning in art and how he handles the question, “What does it mean?” in our conversation below: