Monday, 24 June 2024

Twitchell wins art desecration lawsuit

Artist Kent Twitchell's Ed Ruscha Monument, pictured here in 1987, was painted over in 2006. Twitchell has won a $1.1 million lawsuit because he wasn't given the required notice before the mural was painted over. Courtesy photo.

UPPER LAKE – An acclaimed muralist whose work can be seen in Upper Lake and in Lakeport has won a $1.1 million art desecration lawsuit for a downtown Los Angeles mural that was painted over.

Kent Twitchell, 65, is known locally for painting Upper Lake antique shop owner Tony Oliveira in western attire on the side of a building in Upper Lake, a town where Twitchell also lived for a time in recent years.

His work also is featured on the ceiling of the former Bank of Italy on Second and Main streets in downtown Lakeport, which now houses the antique shop Traditions.

But Twitchell also is a world-renowned muralist, whose best-known works are on display in Southern California.

One of those works was called the “Ed Ruscha Monument,” a 70-foot-high painting on the side of a building at 1031 S. Hill St. which Twitchell created between 1978 and 1987. The painting depicts an important Los-Angeles-based pop artist.

In 2006, the building – owned by the US Department of Labor and occupied by the Job Corps – underwent repair and the six-story-tall mural was intentionally painted over, according to Sheldon Mak Rose and Anderson PC, the Pasadena law firm that represented Twitchell.

Twitchell sued the US government and 12 other defendants for painting over the mural, citing the Federal Visual Artists Rights Act and California Art Preservation Act, the firm reported.

Under those laws, Twitchell was to have received prior notification of the government's wish to have the mural removed so he could make arrangements to preserve it. The law requires a 90-day notice, said William Brutocao, Twitchell's attorney.

The US Department of Labor did not respond to Lake County News' request for a comment on the case.

Twitchell originally asked for $5.5 million, said Brutocao. The negotiated final settlement reached late in April was for $1.1 million, believed to be the largest settlement ever reached under the Federal Visual Artists Rights and California Art Preservation Acts. The U.S. Government is contributing $250,000 to the settlement amount.

“This settlement sets an important precedent which will benefit other artists,” Twitchell said in a written statement. “This resolution makes it clear that when it comes to public art, you have to respect the artist’s rights, or incur significant liability.”

Brutocao said who is responsible for deciding to paint over the mural “remains kind of a mystery.” While the government owns the building, they have other people running it. He doesn't think there was a conscious decision to set out to destroy the mural, and attributes the painting over of the mural to a “bureaucratic snafu.”

If Twitchell had been given the notice, he would have removed the mural or negotiated to keep it in place, Brutocao said.

Art consultants have determined that it may still be possible to salvage the 11,000 square-foot mural, although it may be difficult and expensive. Brutocao said it will involve a complicated method using a small machine resembling a jack hammer to remove the outer layers of paint.

“It effectively sort of peels off like wallpaper,” he said.

From the time of the ruling going into effect in April, Twitchell – now living primarily in Southern California – has 14 months to remove the mural, Brutocao said.

Twitchell – who Brutocao called “a treasure” – is happy to have the lawsuit behind him. “This has been a distraction and a burden for him,” said Brutocao.

Defacement of Twitchell's art also has been a problem in Lake County. Several years ago Oliveira's portrait was the victim of graffiti. Following Twitchell's restoration of the work, it was covered by a door that protects the painting, which is displayed only at certain times.

The money wasn't what motivated Twitchell in the suit, said Brutocao. “That's not important to him. What's important to him is to create works of art.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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