Contemporary artist Robert Vargas says he doesn’t remember life before he started drawing and painting. The fifth-generation Angeleno’s famed work — such as murals around Los Angeles and portraits, created with anything from charcoal, ink or paint to water — have brought him worldwide recognition as a respected artist.
Most of Vargas’ murals can be viewed by the public, most notably in Venice Beach and DTLA, where his paintings promote Los Angeles’ heritage and community.
“Our Lady of DTLA” sits on Sixth and Spring streets in DTLA and features a woman, hands raised, with a yellow aura around her. Vargas’ latest and largest undertaking, “Angelus,” is a towering 14-story mural on Fifth and Hill streets meant to celebrate Los Angeles, the diversity and the people who give it meaning.
The city of Los Angeles recognized Vargas for being a “leading creative force in the revitalization of the Downtown LA art scene,” and presented him with a proclamation for “Robert Vargas Day,” which is Sept. 8.
Vargas said his hope for Robert Vargas Day is for Angelenos to “do something for young creatives to help them fulfill their dreams by sending them on their path with the tools that they will need to succeed.”
A private ceremony declaring Robert Vargas Day official was held on the TenTen Wilshire rooftop in DTLA on Sept. 16, a day after the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. The luxury apartment building’s roof made for a glamourous venue, with close friends and family of Vargas mingling and giving speeches with a view of the Downtown LA skyline.
Those in attendance were close friends and family members like his sister and mother. Among his friends are pro skateboarders Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi and Steve Van Doren, the son of a co-founder of Vans.
LA Councilmember Gil Cedillo, District 1, presented the framed proclamation to Vargas. The document, signed by LA city councilmembers and Mayor Eric Garcetti, serves as a proud moment and achievement for friends and family of Vargas, according to those who spoke at the event.
The same is true for Vargas, who has not forgotten his support group and those close to him through his career.
“There are so many people to thank and those who have meant so much to me along the way,” Vargas said in his speech, while proceeding to emotionally credit those who have helped him. Among those thanked and credited are his family, his team, past teachers and close friends.
A running theme maintained by Vargas’ friends and family, and even himself, is the importance of Los Angeles in his work. Though Vargas has created world renowned works and has collaborated with brands like GQ and Vans, the artist has always been about Los Angeles.
“It’s only natural that the city would find its way onto my canvases and inform my work,” Vargas said about Los Angeles’ inspiration. “I like to combine my creative process with community, and hopefully advance humanity with these murals that I create.”
Though the LA community inspires Vargas, family and authenticity seem to remain as a core pillar for the artist.
To this mother, Vargas said, “Thank you for recognizing my creativity early on, for supporting me and believing in me. Most of all, thank you for just letting me be me. You are, and will always be, my hero. … Many examples of your compassion and generosity informed me from a very young age, and I took those qualities on.”
Sept. 8 was requested by Vargas as an homage to his father, whose birthday falls on the same day. Vargas’ father, who died when Vargas was 17 years old, “didn’t get to share in the journey but has always been with me,” Vargas said. Vargas, who is named after his father, said, “Through our namesake, we can now share in this moment together.”
The completion of the 14-story “Angelus” mural is Vargas’ focus. Once completed, the mural will set a Guinness World Record for being the largest mural in the world painted by a single artist, according to Vargas and the city of LA’s proclamation. Vargas says that he “will go right back to that” and that the mural should be “unveiled in the next several months.”
In his speech, Vargas remembered being a young creative in LA and reminisced, saying, “I had a clear sight of the Downtown LA skyline and would often sit on the stoop of my house and stare at this skyline, which for me not only represented this DTLA but was a portal to the world.”
To young creative Angelenos, and the community at large, Vargas said, “Be true to your work and your work will be true to you. You get out what you put in, so if you’re passionate about something — go for it.
“Los Angeles, it’s always been you. I choose you. My beautiful city, time and time again, forever yours, LA, forever mine.”