Neighborhood divided on mural painted to honor slain tattoo artist


first_imgRESEDA – To friends, Anthony Sena was a street legend revered for a magic hand that could do artistic wonders with spray paint or tattoo ink. So after he was shot to death last year in front of the San Fernando Valley tattoo parlor where he worked, his friends decided to honor him with a sprawling mural on the wall of a Reseda liquor store. But since it went up Oct. 12 on the side of Rainbow Liquor at Saticoy Street and Hesperia Avenue, the mural has embroiled the neighborhood in a controversy about graffiti versus art. On one side are residents who find the mural offensive, saying it will attract taggers and gangbangers. On the other are people such as Jeff Measles, a friend of Sena’s who organized the mural. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.“He was a good guy,” said Measles, who enlisted the help of five artists for the painting. “That’s why people wanted to come out and support him.” Measles said hundreds of people have visited the site since the mural was completed. But dozens of people also have called the Los Angeles Police Department, City Councilman Dennis Zine and store owner Samih Hraira to complain. One woman even threatened to shoot Hraira if he didn’t remove the mural. “It’s made waves in our community, and people, as a general mood, are against it,” said Garth Carlson, chairman of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. Carlson said he’s seen photos of the mural and has received complaints and e-mails from residents. “It exemplifies somebody who was a graffiti artist and what they did,” he said. Reseda resident and community activist Nancy Sweeney said she doesn’t dispute that the mural might have some artistic merit, but she says it’s in the wrong place. “It would be fine in an art enclave where they have a bunch of artists displaying their stuff, but it’s not something Reseda wants their image to be,” she said. The mural features a portrait of Sena, 25, and two hands reaching out – one with a spray can, the other with a tattoo gun. About 10feet tall and 30feet long, it takes up the store’s entire side wall along Hesperia. Sena – known to friends as Ohjae (pronounced OJ) – was shot to death May 11, 2006, while displaying his art outside the Needle Pushers tattoo shop in the 17300 block of Saticoy, about a mile from the liquor store. Early police reports said a group of rival taggers approached Sena and his friends outside the shop. An argument broke out, and at least two taggers opened fire, hitting Sena in the head. One of the alleged shooters, Gabriel Singer, 26, of North Hollywood surrendered to police in February. Another, Candy Srichandre, 28, of Van Nuys and at least one other unidentified white or Latino man remain at large, Los Angeles police detectives said. Sena, who was not a gang member but was a tagger, left behind a 2-year-old daughter, Natalia. Measles said Sena worked hard to support her and her mother, providing them with enough money from his tattoo skills to provide them with an apartment. After the birth of his daughter, Sena became more focused and went out of his way to avoid trouble. His talents landed him a job painting a skate park in the state of Washington, Measles said. As a tattoo artist, Sena’s services were so in demand that he had a two-month waiting list. Measles, a wireless-phone-company salesman who is not a tagger, said he can understand why some people initially might not like the mural. He’s heard the complaints from some of the residents and said he’s willing to compromise by removing parts of the mural – including a smiling skull that he said was only going to stay up through Halloween – and possibly the initials of some of the graffiti crews. On a recent afternoon, a woman visiting the liquor store complained that a “gang member” was sitting in a truck admiring the mural and said the painting created a safety issue. Others have echoed that complaint, but organizers counter that the wall where the mural appears already had been a regular target for taggers and gang members. And they say the mural actually serves as a deterrent to graffiti: Better for a gangster to admire the mural than tag it, they say. Meanwhile, some support for the mural comes from an unlikely source: graffiti experts, including LAPD Officer Ed Moreno, who works with the West Valley Division’s gang impact graffiti detail section. “I’ve done some research on this guy, Anthony Sena, and from what I’ve seen in the neighborhood … this is a piece of art,” Moreno said. “I’d rather see a piece of beautiful art like that than a bunch of tagging where these kids come and cross each other out.” Moreno said Sena’s life also sends a message to other taggers that they can change. “This guy pretty much transferred from being a tagger to a tattoo artist who was pretty well-respected,” he said. “If you look at the mural, it’s a peace mural and dedicated to somebody that was killed.” Despite criticism that it glorifies gang culture, Moreno said, “Nothing on that wall says gangs.” Another ally for keeping the mural is Cheryl Onaitis, program manager for West Valley Alliance, a nonprofit organization contracted by the city to remove graffiti. Onaitis said she received a call from an older woman complaining about the mural and asking her to remove it. “We don’t paint over murals,” Onaitis told the woman. “That’s an eyesore,” the woman replied. “I don’t like that. Can I call police?” “No, you can’t,” Onaitis responded. “Unless it says `kill children’ or something derogatory or racist.” Despite the caller’s complaints, Onaitis thinks the mural is a good idea and often encourages property owners to have them painted. She said she’s familiar with the liquor store because she usually gets a call from Hraira once a week to paint over graffiti at his site. “And oddly enough, I haven’t received a call from the owners” since the mural went up, she said. “So it is a deterrent.” Meanwhile, Hraira is stuck in the middle. He agreed to the mural with the hope of lessening the nearly daily attacks of graffiti on his business. He covers vandalism on his store countertop with stickers, but can’t do anything about the scrawls scratched into the glass storefront, or the tagged public telephone and “megamillions lotto” sign outside. He says he spends about $160 a month on paint to do his own repairs. It’s been a trying few weeks for him as he’s heard both praise and complaints from customers, including one woman who voiced her opinion by honking her car horn and flipping him off. “I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,” Hraira said about the mural. “But I had to do something.” For the latest news and observations on crime in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, check out the Daily News’ crime blog by clicking here.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *