When you think of Pasadena, CA, there are three things that immediately come to mind: 1) The Rose Parade / Rose Bowl, 2) Cal Tech, and 3) Van Halen. Now, of course, other people of note have been born or established themselves as Pasadenans, such as legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, Academy Award winner Sally Field, and chef extraordinaire Julia Child, but none of them tore up the town and left a mark quite like the Van Halen boys did.
Growing up in Pasadena, half a generation below the Van Halen crew, I would hear about all the stories of the wild house parties that the band performed at from my friends’ older siblings, and about the early concerts in the clubs and school auditoriums from my middle school and high school teachers who attended them. I would occasionally see some of the band members around town, and David Lee Roth’s father was even our local optometrist. Van Halen may have been famous all over the world, but to us Pasadenans, they were family.
So, hearing about the passing of Eddie Van Halen on October 6, 2020, was devastating! Of course, it was a huge blow to all of us: to musicians (especially guitarists), to fans, to friends, and to the music industry as a whole. But to me, it felt like losing a family member. That’s why, when I heard there was a mural honoring Eddie Van Halen in the works at Guitar Center in Hollywood, I headed straight down to take part in witnessing the creation of the amazing tribute.
On Friday, January 15th, as I pulled into the Guitar Center parking lot, I was blown away by the scale and detail already captured on the side of the building by contemporary artist Robert Vargas, who was still hard a work with a roller filling in Eddie’s luscious flowing hair. Vargas, a Los Angeles native, has been a leading force in the revitalization of the Downtown LA art scene, and has completed portraitures of legends around the city including his pieces “Can’t Stop” of Suicidal Tendencies front-man, Mike Muir, and “Warrior Odyssey” of skateboard icon and Z-boy legend, Tony Alva.
I stood and watched Vargas’ live painting session in awe, along with a handful of other socially distanced onlookers as he rode up and down his whip to finish the fine detailing of Eddie’s gorgeous, feathered hair. It was a warm winter’s day, so most people were wearing shorts, t-shirts (Van Halen t-shirts, that is), and, of course, masks. When it was time for a break, I approached Vargas, and asked if he would be willing to have a chat with me about his piece. He agreed.
Leeza: How long have you been working on this mural?
Robert: I started Monday, technically, but I really started putting in the work on Tuesday, and now we are at Friday.
Leeza: (impressed) So, about three or four days, and it’s already at this level?!
Robert: (Turns back at the painting, views his progress, and is also impressed) Yes!
Leeza: How long, do you think, before it’s completed?
Robert: Monday, so another three days.
Leeza: And then the big launch is going to be when?
Robert: The big launch and unveiling is January 26, which also happens to be Ed’s birthday. So, we’re really excited about doing that, on that day, and giving it to the world. This will be the premier Eddie Van Halen mural in the States, and especially here in Hollywood, where they made their bones. Of course, we’re right here on the Sunset Strip.
Leeza: I’m sure they would’ve visited the Guitar Center many times. I’m sure Eddie’s bought quite a few guitars from here.
Robert: Oh yeah. Eddie was a big friend of Guitar Center. We were just talking, earlier, about the “Panama” video was shot partially right in front, where is Dave riding a motorcycle literally almost right in front of here.
Leeza: Now, you have some other art projects coming up, don’t you? I hear that you are going to be in the Guiness World Book of Records for one of your projects. Tell me a little bit about that.
Robert: I’m currently painting the largest mural in the world, by a single artist in Downtown LA, but I took some time off to paint this homage to the king here. The title of the piece, by the way, is “Long Live The King”.
Robert: So, I’m working on that project, but I’ve also got a capsule fashion collection that I’m going to be releasing in a couple months, as well as painting a mural next week as soon as I’m done with this [Eddie Van Halen mural]. I’m going into another mural here in LA for a company called Zambezi. Zambezi is an advertising agency that was cofounded by Kobe Bryant. I should be finished with that probably the day before this mural unveils. And it’s interesting because the 26th, which is Ed’s birthday, is also the one year anniversary of Kobe’s death. So, there’s a lot of intersecting lines happening next week.
Leeza: Where can people find you, and your artwork, and all the projects your going to be working on?
Robert: The best place to find me is on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @theRobertVargas – Follow me there to catch up on what I’m up to. Also, a lot of my process is about engaging with the community. For example, this project you come through, as it’s safe to cruise by and watch this take place. You can even stay in your car; it’s a huge parking lot.
Leeza: What time are you going to be here doing your business?
Robert: 9 AM to 9 PM
I thanked Vargas for our chat, and let him return to his whip. By this point, the sun had set, and Vargas had to continue painting using only the floodlights on the wall lighting the Guitar Center parking lot. I stood and watched for about another hour before going back home to Pasadena.
I will be returning over the next couple of days to view the progress, and Vargas, himself, is encouraging Eddie Van Halen fans (and all fans of music and art) to come and take part in viewing his creative process.
LAUNCH OF “LONG LIVE THE KING”
TUESDAY, JANUARY 26TH
GUITARY CENTER – HOLLYWOOD – 7425 SUNSET BLVD.
TO WATCH THE INTERVIEW
Location of “Can’t Stop”
585 Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
Location of “Warrior Odyssey”
The Kinney Venice Beach, 737 Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA