Visual Arts

Is this art? Hollywood leaders aren’t so happy with famous muralist’s work

Everyone is a critic.

Last summer, famed artist Lebo donated his services to create a jazz-inspired mural dubbed “Bee-Bop Into Outer Space” in the heart of Hollywood’s downtown.

But city officials aren’t happy with the outcome.

“We don’t want it to start looking like a ghetto over there,” City Commissioner Patricia Asseff said. “There are many people not happy with the direction we are taking down there.”

Asseff worries the graffiti-style piece is “too abstract” for downtown.

The problem, city leaders say, is the artist didn’t stay true to the rendering approved by the city’s mural committee, and the final graffiti-styled product is not appropriate for the prominent location on busy Young Circle.

“A lot of people don’t like how that first mural turned out,” Mayor Peter Bober said at a recent meeting, adding that art is subjective and location is everything. “We don’t want to see more like the first one that created the stir.”

And Lebo, who routinely collects upward of $20,000 for his murals, thinks that’s hysterical.

“It’s not like I painted a naked girl or anything,” he said.

Lebo intended to follow the rendering the city had approved.

But when he went to paint the side of the old Great Southern Building on the west side of Hollywood Circle, the bumpy surface made it too challenging.

So he got creative.

Instead of rollers and brushes, he used spray paint. He changed the pink, blue and yellow color scheme and added red, yellow and orange “to match the area.”

“That’s what art is,” Lebo said, adding that he kept with the same basic theme of music, his usual vision. “It evolves.”

The finished product: two colorful musicians on the large part of the wall and three burrowing owls in the middle — something he added because he thought it fit in with Hollywood.

Not so, said Terry Cantrell, president of the nearby Hollywood Lakes Association.

“I think from a historic perspective, a mural on the Great Southern Hotel should be respectful of the structure,” Cantrell said. “We don’t want artsy, edgy graffiti-type murals.”

But that’s exactly what Lebo, aka David Le Batard, is known for. The muralist and sculptor has said he’s inspired by street art. His work has appeared globally and he’s received commissions from Ferrari, Harley-Davidson, the Miami Heat, and, most recently, designed the hull of the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Getaway.

Hollywood began its mural program last year as a way to promote art and culture in downtown. It created the mural committee and several artists expressed interest in painting large pieces. It’s up to a private property owner to pick an artist and design, and then pay the artist.

Lebo, the brother of Miami Herald sports columnist and ESPN commentator Dan Le Batard, grew up in Hollywood and attended Chaminade Madonna College Preparatory. When he heard about the new mural program, he thought he could do something nice for his hometown. So he volunteered his services. The city paid him $1,000, but he supplied the paint, talent and labor.

“This job cost me money,” Lebo said.

At least six other murals have popped up around the district, including a large music-inspired painting by Ruben Ubiera on the Ramada at 1925 Harrison St.

But Asseff, the commissioner, isn’t sure the idea is working.

“Some of them are great and some of them are a little much,’’ she said. “I just don’t know what we are trying to achieve here.

“Are we Wynwood now?’’ she said, referring to the popular urban art district in Miami which attracts thousands to its art walks every month.

Orlando Fraticelli, who has lived in Hollywood for seven years, said he loves seeing the murals as he takes a stroll through downtown.

As he walked by Lebo’s mural, he described it as “something you would see in New York subways.”

Lebo’s quick-change act from his rendering has sparked some creativity with city leaders. They’ve changed the bylaws to require any artist who wants to paint a mural in Hollywood to sign an affidavit saying he or she will paint what was the mural committee approved.

“It gives us the assurance that we are going to get what we are expecting to get,” said Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jorge Camejo.

But “handcuffing” an artist into painting a replica of his or her rendering may “stump the creative process,” said Michael Spring, director of Cultural Affairs for Miami-Dade County. Although the county has an approval process for public art, there is always an understanding that art work will evolve, he said.

“It’s the nature of the artistic process,” Spring said.

In an ideal situation, an artist should give a heads-up if something is going to change, Spring said, but communication is not always an artist’s strong point. That’s where management comes in.

“We have staff out there with the artists, working through the issues that come up,” he said. “That way we are not surprised at the end.”

Despite the hiccup over Lebo’s piece, Camejo told the city commissioners that the overall result of the murals has been better than originally imagined.

“We should be frankly happy,” Camejo said.

But for Asseff and others who aren’t particularly happy with the current look, Lebo’s mural won’t be up for much longer.

It’s scheduled to be replaced in the fall.