Photos by Mathew Scott

Frank Romero

Making Art in Elysian Valley

For nearly thirty years, from 1980-2010, Chicano artist Frank Romero worked out of a colorful brick studio and gallery in Elysian Valley. It was here where Frank’s art universe of bright cars, looping freeways, staggering palm trees, and brightly colored canvases came to life. It was also here where Frank found a new muse in the LA River, located only a block from his studio.

“I lived there, and I had a dog or a cat, and I would walk the river once a week. I would go to the end of the block. I knew about it since I was very young, I knew about the LA River.”

In 2005, Frank was approached by the Museum of Natural History to develop a new work. “I was recommended to [them] as an LA artist, and [they] said, ‘We want you to paint a mural for us, and we don’t have any money, but what can you do for us?’ and I said, ‘Well, gimme five thousand for paint and canvas.’ And they did.”

Inspired by weekly strolls along the river, Frank was determined to celebrate the vibrant waterway he loved so dearly. The end result, affectionately called “L.A. River Mural,” is a close to fifty-foot-long mural of the Los Angeles Basin, depicting the river passing through icons of LA: Dodger Stadium, the Downtown skyscrapers, the Watts Towers, the Arroyo Seco Parkway and Harbor Freeways, and the Port of Long Beach — where the river ends.

If you look closely at the mural, you’ll even find an easter egg: a brightly colored building with the word “Art” written on it — an homage to his studio and the community of Elysian Valley that brought so much joy to his work.

Born in 1941, Frank Romero grew up in the multi-cultural neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The experiences he lived as a youth would go on to influence his work as a member of the pioneering Chicano artists’ group “Los Four”. His fascination with the cityscape of Los Angeles is evident in his paintings and most famously in his mural “Going to the 1984 Olympics” painted on the side of the 101 Freeway. He has worked out of a studio in Elysian Valley for over thirty years.

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