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Kent Twitchell paints larger-than-life Special Olympics heroes




Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell tapes the portrait of Loretta Claiborne on a wall. This is one figure in his mural honoring the 2015 Special Olympics.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Muralist Kent Twitchell on site while mounting a mural in downtown L.A. to honor the Special Olympics.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Hanging the Kent Twitchell mural of Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne to honor the 2015 Special Olympics in L.A.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Muralist Kent Twitchell while mounting a mural of Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne honoring the 2015 Special Olympics.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell (rear) and Gil Ortiz installing a mural in Downtown Los Angeles.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell reviews plans for his Special Olympics mural on installation day.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell in his Downtown Los Angeles studio with plans for his Special Olympics mural.
Elyssa Dudley/ KPCC
Kent Twitchell installs a mural of Special Olympics icons Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne in Downtown Los Angeles.
Kent Twitchell takes a break during the installation of his Special Olympics mural honoring Rafer Johnson (pictured) and Loretta Claiborne.
Larry Hirshowitz for KPCC


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You might not know muralist Kent Twitchell by name, but if you’ve spent any time driving around Los Angeles, you’ve seen his work. His eight-story tall portraits of L.A. Chamber Orchestra musicians stare down as you drive north through downtown on the 110, and his Freeway Lady is a local favorite.

His most recent project is one of three murals commissioned by Toyota to commemorate the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Twitchell was given no specific instructions, but he says that deciding who to paint was easy.

“I asked for the most iconic figure that would represent the Special Olympics and everyone came up with Loretta Claiborne, who was a past champion and just is one of those charismatic, wonderful kind of people,” Twitchell said. “Rafer Johnson, of course, is one of the greatest athletes of all time."

(Twitchell's sketches for his Special Olympics mural hang in his Downtown Los Angeles studio. Photo Credit: Elyssa Dudley)

Visiting the mural site is usually the first part of Twitchell’s process. He sketches the wall and everything around it — trees, street lamps and even parked cars — before he begins planning the mural. But delays in securing a wall meant doing things differently this time.

“This was not thought of to be the ideal wall for me," Twitchell says. "By the time the wall came about, I was already going to paint Rafer Johnson and Loretta Claiborne, and that’s two people, and here we have a wall 120 feet wide-by-30 feet high. But that’s great with me because I love having a lot of negative space. It just gives so much more power to the figures."

After he’s photographed his subjects and added their portraits to his sketches of the wall, Twitchell is ready to start painting. He paints small sections of the mural on polytab, a cloth-like fabric that can be adhered to most walls. Twitchell works in his studio with the help of a few assistants. Once they’re done, the mural can be installed in just a day or two.

“On installation day, usually we take all of the separate grids and line them up just to make sure they all fit together properly," says Marie Rooney-Hardwick, Twitchell’s assistant. "We do some alterations, a little painting. Apart from that, the rest of the work is just applying it straight to the wall.”

(Twitchell beside his mural halfway through the installation process. Photo Credit: Larry Hirshowitz)

Twitchell says he gives his “giants” neutral expressions, so that interpretation is left to the viewer. His newest portraits are no exception. Clad in red and blue athletic warm-up suits, they stare down at the street from about 30 feet high on a wall at 1147 South Hope Street in Downtown L.A. He says they're part of an ongoing series called, "Monuments to American Cultural Heroes."

“I grew up in the '40s and '50s where it was very common to have sports heroes, movie heroes," Twitchell says. I think it was a good way to grow up because you tried to be the best you could to be more like your hero. I think heroes are really important and I think America is the less for not having more heroes. These are two true, walking-around, legendary people that deserve everything they’re getting.”

Note: The Twitchell mural is one of three commissioned by Toyota that are located near venues hosting the Special Olympics World Games events. Below is information on the other two murals created by L.A. artists.

David Flores created a mural called World Stage Legacy which is located at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The mural includes Special Olympics athlete and World Games Global Messenger, Ramon Hooper alongside iconic figures with a connection to the Coliseum.

The artist Cryptik created a mural located at 1248 South Figueroa in Los Angeles. It's called The Greatest and features a large-scale portrait of Muhammad Ali.



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