Ever since 2015, POW! WOW! has made its mark on Long Beach. This week-long event gathers artists—both Long Beach-bred and international—to paint the walls of Long Beach. This year is no different, with 22 different artists displaying their talents. The Arts Council for Long Beach had the pleasure of catching a few artists in action.
Tidawhitney (born Tidawhitney Lek) is a Cambodia Town native and recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2017. With that in mind, it only seems fitting that her first-ever mural is in her backyard. The term “backyard” is hardly figurative, as her parents live a few blocks away. Her father is standing by recording the painting process with a GoPro mounted on a monopod.
“The stars literally aligned,” said Tida. The homegrown artist takes pride in being able to give back to her neighborhood. The homage to her heritage portrays the landscape and lifestyle familiar to the older generation that emigrated from Cambodia. In contrast, their children see an unfamiliar landscape. Her mural’s intention is to bridge the gap between the two generations of Cambodians living in Long Beach. Perhaps it’ll spark a conversation that educates the first-gen Cambodian-Americans on their culture whose traditions have diluted throughout the years.
Hilda Palafox was born and raised in Mexico City where she studied graphic design at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (Spanish for National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature). She spent years working in her field, moving onto editorial illustration before she realized that her career path resonated more in drawing and painting. Most of her works feature women of all shapes, sizes and colors exploring different environments, emphasizing her strong use of patterns and complementary colors. For her Long Beach mural, Palafox depicts them underwater in swimwear, surrounded by coral and sea creatures.
“I wanted to do something related to the city that I’m painting in,” said Palafox, referring to Long Beach’s immediate association as a coastal city. Her palette for this mural follows the theme as well: warm tones of yellow and orange surrounded by deep blue sea.
Woes is a POW! WOW! veteran if there ever was a classification. He has participated in their festivals in Worcester, San Jose and Taipei. He has also painted every Hawai’i event—the birthplace of the organization (and Woes himself)—since 2012.
Today he is in familiar territory, having painted his “disgruntled angry panda bear” character on the wall of Graphaids Art Supply on 4th & Elm back in 2015. Four years later and a five minute drive over, dozens of his pandas now grace two sides of a building spanning a combined 100+ feet.
“Because it’s [near] a school, I have to tone it down because usually I go really vicious on my paintings…they still looked pissed though,” said Woes. His trademark pandas make an appearance in most of his pieces, which has been his “full-time job as a painter since 2003.” Since then, he’s been enjoying travelling for various commissions, connecting with other artists and exploring unique cultures.
Steve Martinez has been a Long Beach resident for about a year but he has already made a bold impression in his short tenure. He has painted two utility boxes and a mural at Drake Park.
His POW! WOW! piece is a work of social commentary. The focal point is a spotted towhee, a sparrow that migrates from the Mexican state of Yucatán towards the west coast of the United States. They have a large population in Los Angeles that loosely parallels the journey of many Mexican migrants seeking a better life in the US. Martinez is Guatemalan and recalls the many Guatemalan children that die from common diseases within the custody of Border Protection camps.
“As a Latino, I have to speak on it…given this platform I have,” says Martinez. While the mural is visually appealing, Martinez is stating his condemnation towards the current status of immigration. While not an overt statement on the topic, he recognizes the importance of sending a message that is near and dear to him and his people.
There is a POW! WOW! School of Photography Photo Show hosted by Port LBC July 26th at 402 Saint Louis Avenue. It takes place at 6-10 p.m. July 27th marks the KCRW Summer Nights event that acts as the POW! WOW! Closing Party and will be at The Promenade. For more information, please visit the POW! WOW! Long Beach website
Thank you to all the artists involved in POW! WOW! Long Beach as well as the organization itself.
Written by Public Art Intern Patrick Ong, edited by Curatorial Intern Vivian Chang and photos by Public Art Associate Cynthia Lujan.