Mount Washington Mural Would Honor Individual, Community

Kim Axelrod Ohanneson

(Originally published in Patch http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/mount-washington-mural-would-honor-individual-community#photo-7277592 on August 8, 2011)

I have high hopes for the youth of today.

I’ll admit that my perception might be skewed; I’m basing it on the young adults of Mount Washington, and I’m willing to acknowledge that they represent an extraordinary segment of their demographic. 

Mount Washington born and bred

These twenty-somethings were born and raised in Mount Washington, but they are citizens of the world. These young adults are working with education projects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They are joining the military to serve our country. They are working with local government. They are helping to design disaster relief shelters for Haiti and other crisis-torn areas. They are concerned, committed, involved.

Honoring One of Their Own

I include in this group Zach Christensen, Rob Sipchen and Antonio Villaraigosa Jr. – the trio of young men who hope to create a memorial mural to honor and celebrate their friend, Jack Rohman, a young Mount Washington artist whose life was tragically cut short as a result of schizophrenia and suicide.

Despite his mental illness, Jack had a brilliant mind. He was always the smartest kid in the room since he was in first grade.  Perhaps his elevated thoughts were the reason that he loved lofty vantage points like the perch by the concrete abutment along Mount Washington Drive that looks toward Palos Verdes and the sea.

Elevated Art

The abutment is also the site of last summer’s temporary guerrilla art installation completed by Jack, Zach, Rob and friends – almost all of them art and/or design majors – as well as the site of the proposed mural that will memorialize Jack. The subject of the mural is still a work in progress, according to Zach and Rob who spoke on behalf of Antonio, who was out of town. 

The young men added that, unlike the previous installation, the memorial mural would “have more of a narrative.” The artists are considering using some of the pixilated images that Jack painted last summer and which were inspired by the electronic art he was creating at Sarah Lawrence College.

Involving the Community

As befitting the proposed, long-term presence of the mural in Mount Washington, these young artists are seeking the support of the community where they grew up – the community that their friend Jack loved until he died. The friends’ lives and art were informed and inspired by the confluence of city and nature and creativity that is the Hill’s legacy to those who grew up here.  

As children, Jack, Rob, Zach and their friends roamed Kite Hill, rode bikes under the trees that line San Rafael, and observed the city from the Hill’s many slopes.

Later, as teenagers and young adults, they celebrated that friendship and the neighborhood that nurtured it with pencil and paint and videotape. According to Rob and Zach, working on the mural is a way for Jack’s friends to remember him “during a happy period, when we were all together.”

It is also, in a very real way, an ode to the innocence of a childhood in Mount Washington before the harsh reality of tragedy struck.

Remembering Jack

Jack Rohman loved Mount Washington. He always intended to return here to live. Through the mural, Jack would always have a home on the Hill – a home created by the collective art he shared with the friends who loved him and the neighborhood that nurtured them.

“Jack loved the murals," says Zach. "Mount Washington is the only place where there is context.  We couldn’t put this mural anywhere else.”

Some young adults leave home and go out into the world and build sanctuaries. Then there are those like Zach and Rob and Antonio who want to build a sanctuary in the place that they call home – the place where Jack lives in the memory of their hearts. 

I have high hopes.

 

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