By JP Acosta
LOS ANGELES — The walls stand cold, but also warm and vibrant at the same time. Observant, eyes seeming to dart along the rain-soaked buildings in Los Angeles – but still. Silent, yet every stroke of a brush or spray of a paint can tells the story of communities looking to grieve and remember.
These walls depict murals of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, who both died along with seven others in a helicopter accident two years ago. Since their deaths, artists painted murals all throughout the world, but predominantly in Los Angeles, depictions of jersey-biting and free-throw poses splashing once-barren walls of marijuana dispensaries and gyms with Laker purple and yellow. However, the process behind these murals adorning various walls reveal not only the blood, sweat and time painting those same eyes, but also the culture of Los Angeles and honoring those who have died.
“You go to a mural or you see one from a distance, and it stays with you,” artist Tehrell Porter said. “Murals don’t allow you to forget.”
Porter was at his home in Hawaii when he made a cold call to a Los Angeles-based client about painting murals of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Porter’s favorite basketball players growing up were Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Bryant, so he was honored to get the opportunity to depict Bryant on what are now 10 murals throughout LA. Porter would travel to Los Angeles and stay for months, working on some of the murals that depict Bryant and Gianna throughout LA. One of the murals he painted, an NBA-Jam inspired depiction of Bryant and Jordan, had help from the community, which Porter says is the most important part of painting a mural.
“I would ask random people walking by if they wanted to paint, and they pixelated the basketball,” Porter said. “The community is going to be the ones preserving and seeing the mural. The community is the key.”
“Murals tell the story of their communities, the issues that affect us and of the people we love,” art historian and cultural expert Isabel Rojas-Williams told the LA Times in 2020. Historically, murals have always been used in LA as a form of resistance and expression, reaching their peak in the 1960s with the Chicano mural movement. To this day, the murals on the walls tell a story of not only the subject on the sides of buildings, but also of the people who stare at the murals every day going through their lives.
A longtime Laker fan named Mike (who asked his last name not be used out of respect for the art) is a member of the community who saw the work being done by muralists such as Porter and thought it would be a good idea for someone to organize all of the murals so people could find them. Still grieving over the death of Bryant, he created Kobemural.com, a site devoted to all of the art depicting Bryant or Gianna in any way around the world, in a way to not only help others, but himself as well.
“It’s very therapeutic for me,” Mike said over the phone, “to be able to channel my grief into something positive.”
Mike says a sense of community for him in these murals comes from having a tangible place for people to go when they’re feeling sad or need a break. “(The murals) provide a spot where someone can go by themselves, or with their loved ones, and have a moment with Kobe,” Mike said. “To be able to have a place like that is really powerful and meaningful.”
A common thread between artists like Porter and community members such as Mike is the idea of murals providing eternal life. Porter said he believes murals can be seen as a closer bond between viewer and art.
“Murals are an intimate relationship that captivates you,” Porter said. “These murals help people remember Kobe and his greatness.”
This relationship the art has with the community sticks to the minds of viewers like Mike.
“I think it’s somewhat obvious that those who are the subjects live forever through these walls in Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s an expression of creativity, grief and gratitude through creative art pieces.”
JP Acosta is a graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter @acosta32_jp.