If you walk down the corner of Western Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard any time in the next few days, look up — at the top of a building to the north, a mural of a giant Buddha will greet your eyes. Surrounded by graffiti swirls and a purple background, the tranquil, blue Buddha sits with eyes closed. That creation comes from the talent of Eric Skotnes, a Los Angeles-based artist.
Skotnes began doing graffiti at the age of 16 and often rode his bicycle to the Los Angeles River to gaze at murals. Eventually, his bus rides to work became a means to meeting the artists behind these works, and they invited him to come along to paint walls with them. After many years of graffiti, Skotnes decided to take his talent to the next level; he asked a building owner in Eagle Rock permission to create a large, legal work.
“I asked if I could paint his wall because it was always being tagged,” Skotnes said. “He invited me into his studio — I didn’t know he was an artist — and he ended up being the amazing painter, Steve Huston. He told me, ‘If you want to paint the wall, I’ll give you figurative lessons in exchange.’”
Huston’s work includes many figurative oil paintings of boxers with detailed muscle structure, which resonated deeply with Skotness. Huston’s work instilled within Skotness a a deep desire to do more with his art and expand his horizons beyond the usual graffiti work he had done.
With the encouragement and support of his father, Terry, Skotnes attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for illustration. After attending art school, his style continued to flourish; “Awakenings” proves the culmination of an artistic journey as well as a personal one.
“Originally, my graffiti was all about making a name for myself in that world — bigger and better was my motto -— but now I have a responsibility to send a message with my art. I want it to be better and deeper, you could say that’s my new mantra,” Skotnes said. “A colorful piece with my writer’s name just doesn’t intrigue me anymore.”
It’s why Skotnes decided to create the mural of Buddha for SoulPancake. Aside from the Rainn Wilson book of the same name, SoulPancake as a site featured a series called “Art Attack,” in which artists create a piece and viewers can watch a timelapse video of the process. Skotnes boasts various shows at galleries like Thinkspace and the recently closed Crewest; after a friend suggested him for SoulPancake, Skotnes decided to pursue a large-scale project.
The finished product, completed in September 2012, serves as more than an aesthetically pleasing work, and Skotnes said he knew exactly what piece he wanted to create.
“I wanted to honor my wife’s son Phillip [DeMars], who passed away in 2009, by painting one of his favorite spiritual icons. We made his backyard into a meditation garden and in that garden, there was a Buddha statue. I spent many hours sitting and drawing the amazing statue,” Skotnes said. “I had also painted a mural on the back of his cottage, and my wife and I agreed that it would be beautiful to mix the two elements.”
Skotnes met his wife, recording artist Rebekah Del Rio, during the time her son Phillip DeMars struggled with cancer. The artist met DeMars only a few months before he passed away, but DeMars serves as the inspiration for the spray-painted mural, which Skotnes named “Awakenings.”
“Basically, in the four years he was battling cancer, he became very spiritual and he had an awakening that we believed helped him to be at peace with his illness,” Skotnes said. “I feel it’s important to share his story but I do like to also suggest that we don’t have to go through a fight with cancer to become awakened, mindful, positive and more grateful for everything around us. We should all try not to be so negative about all the bad things or the wrong in our lives.”
Regardless of whether a viewer knows the story behind the mural, the Buddha and graffiti style come together in a peacefulness that requires no backstory.
“I wanted to marry the negative with the positive in my mural,” Skotnes said. “Graffiti carries a negative connotation. People tend to think of graffiti as bad and destructive because of gangs and tagging, whereas the Buddha, regardless of what religion you subscribe to, is a positive, spiritually meditative symbol for most people. I wanted to incorporate those two as one of a kind — like the yin and yang of life.”