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Sep 11

One of L.A. Art Walk’s best comes home to paint a mural in Boyle Heights

By Rafael Cardenas

“I can’t remember ever not drawing. My first figure drawing was when I was about three,” said Robert Vargas, sitting outside the Down and Out at downtown L.A.’s historic Alexandria Hotel–his indigenous features and long hair accessorized by a black leather fedora covered in paint.

We sit and talk art just a few blocks away from the loft he owns and has called home since 2004, before the hipsters & yupsters rolled in. Ever since, Vargas has contributed to the growth of the downtown art scene through his omnipresence at art walk and the accessibility of his process. His portraits of people on the street have earned him recognition from all walks, including the cover of the annual LA Weekly Best of LA People issue and a spotlight feature on the Carson Daily Show.

“I love to paint the people on the street… they are all so beautiful and worth immortalizing,” said Vargas. “I believe we are in the golden age of Los Angeles.”

Although Vargas has become invested in his downtown neighborhood, he will tell you it all began on a different side of town.

When he was in 3rd grade, his mother took community courses at East Los Angeles College, and signed a young Vargas up for the art classes offered to adults. There, he had a teacher that loved his work and stocked his backpack with art supplies so he could do whatever he wanted to do at home. He said she helped cultivate what was already there: his desire and need to always create.

Vargas is proud to be born and raised in Boyle Heights. He carries a picture in his wallet of his father’s Roosevelt High School yearbook portrait next to a teen-aged Antonio Villaraigosa.

UPDATE: videographer Steve Saldivar captured images of Robert Vargas painting a portrait of a local mariachi outside Eastside Luv.

He was a Selesian High School student before he transferred to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, on the Cal State Los Angeles campus, where he immersed himself in art.

When The Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, New York came to his school, he wasn’t prepared to show a portfolio, so he did the next best thing.

“I went to the Student Union where a painting of mine was hanging and I took it from the wall and brought it to the representative,” said Vargas.

Then, it was New York, where Vargas spent the next five years in art before coming back to L.A.

Now, Vargas brings his talent back to his hometown. He’s been invited to do a solo show at Eastside Luv where he will also create the first-ever mural on the exterior wall of the bar.

“I left to go to school, but I return with something to offer my roots and join in the change,” said Vargas.

The event will begin with Vargas walking from downtown, crossing the First Street bridge into Boyle Heights, a procession he envisions as a chance for others to participate and join him.

“So much has been made about the crossing of east to west. In search of opportunity, my walk from west to east is signifying the change of that perception,” Vargas said.

Following the mural painting, Vargas will have a reception for his exhibit of new work inside Eastside Luv, where he will also do a few live portraits of select people in attendance that will be included in the exhibit.

“My homecoming to Boyle Heights is very important. It’s my first opportunity to do something like this in the neighborhood I grew up in,” he said.

Date: Saturday, October 8, 2011
Procession from Little Tokyo to Eastside Luv: at 11am
Mural Painting: noon
Artist Reception: 5-8pm
Eastside Luv Wine and Queso Bar
1835 E 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033

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