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2005 – Rip Cronk … Murals Represent Venice to the World


“We could all use a little more art in our lives” … those are words found at the bottom of a letter recently sent out by the Chairperson of the Venice Family Clinic. It´s true! Culture provides many benefits.

Residents of Venice are so fortunate to have art in our lives 24/7. The Art Walk is here for two days, galleries are open during specific hours, but our streetscapes give us art at any time of the day.

We should especially be thankful to Rip Cronk (and of course Werner Scharf who commissioned him for many of the murals) for giving us, and the world that visits, many of the delightful images that are in our environment. He catches the flavor of Venice in different ways.

Rip, who has an education background in fine art, painted his first mural in 1978 and found that he was quite comfortable with the scale. “I like working on a big scale … to have an effect on society,” he says. “The stuff that goes on in the galleries is wonderful, but it appeals to an elite audience. The general audience never sees it and because of its seclusion, it doesn´t have a chance to have an effect on society and actually mean something. A mural, on the other hand, is a kind of an energized visual language that combines both community ideals and a fine art context. So, unlike all the two-dimensional stuff that´s otherwise in your environment that´s all advertisements, murals go right to the culture of the people … and the people recognize it as that. They recognize the difference between a billboard and a work of art. Really the only difference is context. Above the mural there is an enormous beautiful sign. The guy is just an incredible painter. People never look at that and think of it as being art at all. They only think of it as an advertisement. So, people recognize and appreciate the context of fine art particularly because it is cultural and not advertisement.”

Rip lives 600 miles from Venice in Weed California, near the Oregon border. He traveled to Venice at the end of 2004 for the dedication of one of his latest murals. A larger-than-life portrait of Abbot Kinney, founder of Venice, is located on N. Venice Blvd., west of Pacific Ave. It´s a little different from what he normally does. “Abbot Kinney is austere and much more conservative,” he says, “but it fits the particular locale. While he´s really in a grey suit, the colors are lavenders and blues so it´s really a colorful mural, but subtly so. It was designed for the brick background.”

Have you seen “Venice Reconstituted” on Speedway and Windward Ave. lately? Rip gave it an update while he was here. Still a parody of Botticelli´s “Venus on the Halfshell” and his own “Venice on the Halfshell” painted in 1980, “Venice Reconstituted” originally done in 1989, has had new things added to it. One such item is the Ballerina Clown that hadn´t arrived yet in 1989. There are also words throughout the mural, such as “History is Myth”, that give hints to what the mural is about. “In 1989 a post-modern Venice is at the leading edge of that process where you have multi-culturism interfacing,” says Rip. “The world is slightly topsy-turvy and as it settles back it becomes reconstituted.”

There are approximately 75 people represented on “Venice Reconstituted”, almost evenly divided between locals and tourists. As Rip was updating the mural people would stop by and point out where they are and introduce themselves. “One guy was just a 20-year old kid, a surfer dude, when I knew him back in 1989,” says Rip. “Now he´s a middle-aged guy. It´s kind of fun seeing this.”

Sometimes a mural becomes so deteriorated that it needs to be repainted. That´s what happened with “Rip Tide” painted in 1990 and located at Clubhouse Ave. and Ocean Front Walk. Rip decided to put up a new one instead. “Venice Chorus Line” is a group of half people half animals with their legs kicking up representing a sense of camaraderie of Venice. It combines cubist and futurist fine art composition devices along with a Van Gogh feel with cartoon and graffiti art techniques. “I´ve been waiting for the opportunity to do this style of art in a public mural,” says Rip. “Most people, they´ll either go for the art parodies or photorealistic images, but to get them to accept a little more edgy is sometimes difficult. I got the opportunity to put this one up. I think it´s a fabulous success.”

One of Rip´s favorite murals is “In Canaletto´s Venice” painted in 2001 at Venice High School. “That mural was a lot of fun,” he says. “I recommend that everybody go see it.” It´s located at the east end of the administration building. (If you aren´t able to see the mural at the school. Rip gives thanks to (retired) teacher Sharon Gebhardt and Principal Jan Davis for making it happen. Rip knew Sharon from a previous project, “Building Block Construction” at Mother´s Beach in Marina del Rey. A lifeguard tower is painted to look like a kid´s construction of building blocks and alphabet blocks.

Sharon was familiar with Rip´s mural around Venice and thought it would be wonderful if he could do one at the school. He agreed to do it for expenses only. Between the efforts of Sharon and PTA President Laura Ferre, funding was received from Neighborhood Matching Fund Program of the Board of Public Works, the Gondo Golf Classic and Clean Sweep. Canaletto was famous for painting Grand Canal scenes. Sharon took seven students and dressed them in period Italianate clothes that she rented from a costume store in Burbank. Rip took many photographs of the students and the gondola that is in front of Washington Mutual Bank on Lincoln Blvd. In Venice California, he put them both together and superimposed them in front of a canal scene by a famous Venice Italy artist. “It looks like we have our seven students touring through the Grand Canal,” say Rip. A committee chose the participants … 2 Hispanics, 2 Afro-Americans, 1 Caucasian, 1 American Indian and 1 Asian … to cover the ethnic composition of the community and the school.

Sharon reports that the mural has been defaced twice since 2001. Venice students have cleaned off the graffiti but Rip has had to do the repainting, the last time using an anti-graffiti emulsion. Sharon just raves about the school´s experience working with Rip. “He took no money, except for expenses,” she says. “He drove in from Northern California twice to repaint.” She also admires him as an artist. “He has strong opinions, but has this incredible talent,” she says. “He has an excellent eye, is a good draftsman and has the ability to project.”

Rip has met a cross section of locals and tourists while painting his murals. “It´s a place where some of the borders between social stratum and economic stratum break down somewhat,” he says. “When a guy walks up to me and starts talking and I turn to look at him, to look at him I can´t tell if he´s a millionaire or a pauper. You can´t tell in Venice. Everyone is in a casual mode. The other side of Venice is the tourist community. A kind of cultural event takes place that I like to see and recognize and be part of and that is when you have 200,000 people walking on the boardwalk together at the same time and it´s warm and sunny and there´s almost standing room only. Everyone has on their sunglasses and everybody is sort of duded out in whatever their hippest wear is … whether you´re a gang person or a muscle beach guy or girls in bikinis. It´s the complete gambit … everybody is behind their sunglasses watching everyone else and they´re both the art object and the spectator. There´s a cultural reckoning that goes on where people recognize their place in society by comparing themselves to everyone else and it happens on the boardwalk everyday through the summer 10 million people strong. It´s a vital experience and I don´t know of anywhere else it happens quite this way.

Rip´s murals may have different meanings, but they are never meant to be exclusive or elitist. “They are meant to have a street meaning and a meaning about new ways of combining the fine art context in society,” he says. “You have to follow modernism as an art movement. You can still do stylistic things that are different and it´s still considered leading edge fine art but, at some point, the leading edge in the creative process, where it occurs in the fine art historical dialogue, leaves the composition and moves to a context of how art works in society and that´s where I am. I´m still outside the parameters of the mainstream.” Just like Venice. No wonder his murals work so well.