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The ethics of covering someone else's art with yours

Would a tiki offend Oceanside Samoans?

John Lamb's "beach-billy" mural is no more.
  • John Lamb's "beach-billy" mural is no more.
  • Image by Zach Cordner/Osider Magazine

Oscar-winning artist John Lamb is not happy how his “beach-billy” mural was painted over.

“It looks like somebody scribbled over my art,” says Lamb about how a new mural replaced his hundred foot hand-painted art-piece on the side of Masters Kitchen and Cocktail on Coast Highway in downtown Oceanside.

Carlsbad's Santos "wiggles" replaced Lamb's mural.

Carlsbad's Santos "wiggles" replaced Lamb's mural.

Oceanside-based Lamb won a 1979 Academy Award. “It was in the scientific and technical achievement category. We were there at the beginning when digital animation was combined into film…My son who lives in L.A. and is in the movie business has [the Oscar]. Down here, who cares?”

Lamb says his Secret Spot short from 1973 was the first animated surf film. Since he moved to Oceanside in 1986, Lamb has created murals for the California Surf Museum, Legacy Brewing, Anita’s and Tri-City Transmission. His whimsical work often incorporates his love of classic So Cal surf and car culture.

BB Bastidas' latest Oceanside work

BB Bastidas' latest Oceanside work

“I spent five weeks painting it,” says Lamb of the Masters mural. “I used a digital projector and a scissor lift. He spent three days to make a bunch of squiggles to cover it up.”

Art, especially public art, can be a touchy topic. The artistic value of the replacement mural is clearly in the eye of the beholder. It was painted by Cardiff-based artist Santos in his “Maya Pop” style. Lamb says the coverup was a professional no-no.

Lamb: “If I signed it, it’s done.”

Lamb: “If I signed it, it’s done.”

“Any artist worth his salt would know better than to paint over someone else’s work,” says Lamb. “It’s the law of the jungle.”

“I made it very clear I would never do anything like that without permission from the artist,” says Santos from his Carlsbad studio. “I was approached by Ryan [Jubela, owner of Masters] and Dinah [Poellnitz, arts supporter] to do it and I told them I can’t start until I know you guys contacted him. They said ‘Oh no, he’s cool.’ They confirmed with me he was OK with it. I got the materials and lift myself and banged it out in six days.”

Only problem is that Lamb says he never spoke with Master’s owner Jubela about it and he says he certainly never gave Poellnitz the OK. “I never had the chance to give my approval,” says Lamb. “I was told they were going to do it. I wasn’t happy about it, but it’s not my building so I have no choice.”

Three months after the cover-up, Lamb is still not happy. “This person waltzes in out of nowhere to destroy a piece of art,” he says of Poellnitz. “It’s like she took a knife and cut off a piece of my ear. It’s like she killed one of my kids.”

Lamb says Poellnitz actually got insulting. “Dinah said the mural was offensive to some people in the neighborhood because the tiki in it might offend Samoans. First of all, tikis are part of the Polynesian culture. It’s like confusing Japanese with Chinese. Besides there are tikis everywhere. Who is she? What gives her the authority to wipe out local culture.”

Poellnitz says she did speak with Lamb. “We hunted him down and we had a conversation.” Besides, she says that Master’s landlord Jubela agreed that his wall should be turned into a “rotating mural project to showcase a diversity of art…Not all artwork in Oceanside is about John Lamb. Besides, in five years he never even finished that mural.”

“If I signed it, it’s done,” says Lamb. “That’s outrageous. Of course it was finished.”

Poellnitz says she grew up in Oceanside and worked in L.A. after she got a dual degree in art history and art administration from UC Riverside. Once she moved back to North County she said she helped launch Oceanside’s Art Walk weekly event and now curates art shows at the Linksoul on Coast Highway.

“Our goal is to expose people to more art. We did pop-up art shows for years before we came to Linksoul. I truly believe Oceanside can be a vital place for artists. [At Linksoul] we don’t treat artists like coffee shop artists. It’s all about getting exposure for artists and getting artists paid.”

Masters owner Jubela says he has no comment about the kerfuffle between Lamb and Poellnitz.

Ironically, Santos who said he has done a full city block of public artwork in Saudi Arabia, says he was not paid for his Masters mural. In fact, he says he would happily paint another mural in Oceanside and not charge for his art. “I don’t charge for murals. If anyone would like to pitch in for the paint or the lift, that would be cool.”

Santos says artists have it good now. “I am pleasantly surprised how urban art has taken over North County. Artists can still go and do what they want without too much control over what they do.” Santos says he and his artist friends see mural art as ephemeral, not permanent. “Urban art is not a museum piece. You do it to get your wiggles.”

The closest thing Oceanside has to public-sponsored murals is the Art That Excites project administered by Mainstreet Oceanside. Program manager Gumaro Escarcega says Mainstreet got two $6,000 grants paid to two different artists who will paint two outside walls on the Northern Pine Brewery building on the corner of Horne Street and Pier View Way.

The first mural “Yin Yang Dragons” will start going up next month. Its artist, Gloria Muriel of Encinitas, was selected by a popular vote. Escarcega says the second artist, Oceanside’s Isabel Figueroa, was specifically selected to create a past-and-future depiction of Oceanside’s Posole neighborhood at the request of local Latinos. He said Mainstreet aimed for a local artist and a local theme for that second grant.

Escarcega says it is his understanding that in Oceanside any private property owner can commission his own mural as long as it is not an advertisement and that it is not derogatory.

Oceanside born-and-raised BB Bastidas has at least eight murals on the outside of local businesses including the Flying Pig, The Pour House and The Cup. “When I started, it wasn’t even a thing in Oceanside.” He says he now divides his time between Oceanside and his studio in Manhattan, New York. His latest local mural was the side of Fat Joe’s restaurant and bar that shows a serpent wrapped around a power line and a palm tree. Bastidas says he has never had to get permits.

“When I grew up here it wasn’t like it is now for artists in Oceanside,” says Bastidas. “It was all skateboarders or surfers or gangbangers. Now it’s getting more artsy. It almost seems to me that street art has already peaked.”

Regarding the Masters tiff Bastidas says: “There’s enough walls in Oceanside to where you don’t have to paint over other people’s walls.”

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John Lamb said that Masters owner Ryan Jubela said he absolutely was approached by Dinah to find muralists and not the other way around. Yes, public art does not last forever. Lamb says his big problem with this whole deal was that Dinah was not being honest with him, Santos or Jubela. The article includes mention of Dinah's degree and her work with Art Walk and Linksoul. Not sure what what key bio info was not included.

I talked to Ryan about his mural many times in March of this year. Ryan wanted to replace the mural but did not have the budget for it when his A/C unit needed repairs. In August I bumped into Ryan who reminded me his interest to replace Lamb's work. Santos happened to offer a free mural and Ryan jumped on the opportunity when I presented it. I contacted the art commission, city council member Rodriguez and Lamb. I paid for the Liability insurance coverage for the mural. I was completely honest with Lamb. We had a conversation about my kids and him looking forward to seeing the results. Mainstreet failed to mention how I selected and curated the artist for their Posole project that I wrote the mural concept for due to their public backlash. BB doesn't live here anymore and has saturated our downtown with his art to the point it has influenced a permit process with the city's planning commission. Im known for being forthcoming. Folks in the community including myself did not appreciate a mural with Hill Billies holding shotguns on an island with caricature faces of tiki heads. At end of the day Ryan said YES to a new mural because he wanted a NEW MURAL. As a person raised in Oside, I have right as much Lamb to see new art imagery in my community on large scale walls. Not all property owners are down for art. Santos's mural will only be up for two years and then another artist after him. I sat on the Master Art Committee with members of the art commission. There's an art plan signed by our council to implement public art in new development projects. I love John but this article is based on emotions and a business owner who can't admit to the artist he wanted new art on his walls.

City Councils enjoy spending $$ on what's called an "Art's Commission." I remember when (neighboring) Carlsbad began its (then) all new such politico board. (why) Doesn't Oceanside have on? This is a PURE POLITICO ISSUE, perfect for an 'arts commission' purpose. A perfect test to analyze how similar an arts commission can be to (the hierarchy of) a city council (over citizens) --- but on 2 different topics/mindsets.

ised- I was told by a city staffer tha there is an arts commission in Oceanside but that at this time its not that involved with things outside the Oceanside Museum of Art. Someone just brought up to me one of the greatest public art busts of all time...."the bars" aka "The Split Pavilion" in Carlsbad in the 90s. What a trainwreck that was.

I remember being @ THAT city council meeting. That was more a (quoted as) "Jail." [from the viewing/perspective of drivers-by; of walkers-by] The (literally) neighbor eatery was the strongest supporter of the debate. It was much complained in the same as how Trump does: that not a patron was used for such 'work.' THAT issue was assured by Speakers/Citizens to be an element of the city council meeting.

*in response to Ken's 7:45pm) To add in my details FOR KEN: I know to there was a special BUMPER STICKER (red & black on white) of "BREAK THE BARS" handed out. With the red circle + diagonal line over the black vertical bars. This was much distributed from the locals. And passed out at the above City Council meeting I spoke of. IT WAS WANTED by Citizens that the "Split Pavilion" --- the title given by the city only to attract more tourists --- (as citizens said) "BE TORN DOWN." But knew it was very difficult to achieve. !! Imagine what the "jail" would have become, had (today's daily county society behavior of graffiti & homelessness been at the time of the "Split Pavilion" !! The homeless would have made REAL USE of it. Does anyone, here, remember of a "New York Artist" being used?

*'* -- an eatery of an outside culture -- is in Oceanside along with another coastal location; add the same Inland amount ---- all within the County. WILL they possibly be the NEXT, SIMILAR mess-up? Rather, Our Coast needs more classics like longtime Carlsbad's Harbor Fish Cafe (victim of the 'Bars)

a note to 'hscc' : Carlsbad Resident's ORIGINATING PETITIONER to the 'endless bummer' also known as "monkey bars' was Jim Watson. ---- To begin the debate.

(reply to) To John Lamb, way above: I hate how those who move hear from elsewhere complain about our weather. As in when the sun doesn't shine, etc. About the lack of rain, nearly all are in fault for that -- like anyone who drives a motor vehicle etc.
Eathquakes are just a bit of rocking and rolling: It's so interesting how some get so scared by such. California has not "broken apart from the rest of the country" --- as it was rumored decades ago. "To go into the ocean."

I guess John knows Califonia's gonna become an Island, afterall. I wonder what the state economy will turn into, at such condition. Relations with the mainlands. California's military access will change.

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