When Lindsay Lohan decided to move from Hollywood to Venice, she hoped to take refuge from the media’s glare in this scrappy, beach-adjacent community that favors trailer-park-dwelling bohos and skater kids over celebrities. Instead, within days of her move, she was making headlines for allegedly stealing a necklace from a local jewelry store—a crime that may land her in jail. Her arrival was also trumpeted in the form of a mural featuring the troubled actress as a Pop Art-y mermaid with a spinach-green face and Day Glo-yellow hair. And her luck got worse: Days after the mural was painted, it was defaced with a red swastika painted over Lohan’s forehead.
The art itself caused a fuss among the locals, not all of whom are thrilled about having a famous neighbor (tour buses are doing drive-bys and helicopters are hovering to get a glimpse of Lilo when she’s not in court). But the swastika caused a media maelstrom. Several videos showing the “Lohan Defacement” went up on YouTube. The blogosphere erupted in debates: Which was worse, the mural or the swastika?
Watching from the sidelines is Jules Muck, the painter and graffiti artist responsible for the mural, who, thanks to her Lohan tribute, is enjoying her moment in the spotlight.
“The fact that I painted Lindsay had people sending me email, asking, ‘Why did you paint her? Why did you welcome her to town?’ It was weird mail,” Muck said recently over the telephone from New York, where she’d been summoned to paint another green lady mural (of Bette Davis) in a downtown residence. “And then, people would stop in the street when I was there fixing it, and say, ‘Why Lindsay?’”
Muck, whose real name is Jules Veros—her graffiti “tag” is inspired by her English grandmother, who endearingly called her Mucky Pup when she was young—isn’t a celebrity graffiti artist along the lines of Shepard Fairey and Banksy. Not yet, anyway. But as one of the few women in a tough, underground trade infused with a distinctive, urban, male swagger, the 32-year-old artist has garnered a cult following. Around Venice, the petite, blond, Debbie Harry-type has become a local celebrity, marching up and down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in paint-splattered thrift-store threads, her tiny (“but vicious”) Chihuahua, Tula, inevitably at her feet. And in New York, where she lived on-and-off before coming to Los Angeles three years ago, she became known for her “ green paintings,” which she debuted a decade ago on the Graffiti Hall of Fame in Spanish Harlem. In recent years, chartreuse versions of pop icons, including Lil’ Kim, Nicole Richie, and Pink, sprouted up across the city. Muck’s green version of Gloria Steinem can be viewed at the Bronx Museum of Art.
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As far as the science into choosing her subjects, Muck said: “I take in everything, what is at the forefront of society and the media and stuff, and I spit it back out. I consider myself more of a Pop artist. Whatever’s going on, I comment on. Not really to say an opinion about it, but just to put it back out with my flair on it.”
Inherent in that flair is a sympathy and respect for women—the Lindsays and Nicoles—who are typically ridiculed and derided in the media. “I always support the underdog,” Muck said.
As a former heroin addict, she also supports people trying to kick bad habits.
Of Lohan, Muck said: “She’s an artist, and also someone who’s in recovery from drugs and alcohol. I myself am five years sober, and so I identified with her on that….She’s messed up a lot. I feel like Venice is the place for her. She doesn’t belong in that glammy crowd. She belongs with us. Venice is so accepting, the crowd is full of crazies and bizarre people.”
Muck’s graffiti portraits are less cartoonish caricatures than vibrant, slightly psychedelic, and very feminine renderings of what could be called mighty green goddesses. They look like super heroines—sisters of the Incredible Hulk, perhaps—that in a single bound could leap from the wall and run off to save the world from evil. There is also something infectiously playful about Muck’s work, which is not limited to graffiti. A canvas portrait of a woman with a Medusa-like thicket of hair shows a spray-paint can tucked decorously in her locks. Another, more erotic, painting shows a young, topless girl wearing handcuffs, surreptitiously sneaking a swig of beer from a can.
“Muck’s work is very accessible,” said Marc Schiller, co-founder of the art website Wooster Collective. “It’s graffiti-based, but I think that her work broadens her audience. I think she puts a lot of herself into her work. Street art is not only about technique, it’s about the energy of the person that comes through.”
Muck came to Schiller’s attention through a recommendation by Lady Pink, the 1970s and ‘80s New York graffiti doyenne, under whom Muck apprenticed for five years. At the time, Schiller was selecting artists to take part in the 11 Spring Street project, in which 50 street artists were invited to spend seven weeks painting one of the most iconic buildings of the downtown art scene before it was converted to condos. (Lou Reed wrote a poem about 11 Spring, which he recited on an album by the Danish band, Kashmir.)
“Anybody that Lady Pink says is the future of graffiti, and was someone she was mentoring, (my partner) and I made sure that we accommodated it.”
Not only was Muck invited to participate in 11 Spring, but she drew attention from some high-profile visitors.
“I remember I gave Anderson Cooper a tour of the space, he came over the weekend, and he was one of those guys that, when he saw Muck’s work, he immediately gravitated toward it,” Schiller said.
Of Muck’s role in the overall street art world, Schiller said, “I think the graffiti scene can be a very tough scene. There have been women in that world, but obviously it’s been very male-dominated. I think Muck being a part of that female inclusion has been very, very important.”
For men and women alike, however, making a living painting on walls is nearly impossible, and when Muck moved to Venice she spent months living out of her Toyota. In order to paint, she would string Christmas lights through the bathroom of Abbot’s Habit, a coffee shop on Abbot Kinney, and hook them up to a lamp out in the alley, where she would work through the night.
“All the weirdos would come sit with me,” Muck recalled.
Eventually, she was asked to do a show at Abbot’s Habit, where she cleared $6,000, allowing her to rent an apartment and set up a studio, with the help of a friend who charged her $100 a month.
“Everything snowballed from there,” Muck said. She landed more shows, and eventually moved to a new studio that she now shares with Micah Nelson, the artist and musician who’s the son of Willie Nelson. Currently, her work is being shown at the Pacific Design Center.
But it’s still her public murals that get the most attention. When Venice local Dennis Hopper died last year, Muck organized a memorial wall, asking members of Hopper’s family and friends to paint a tribute to the artist and film star. His son Henry Hopper participated, and Muck wound up incorporating him—in green, of course—into the mural.
Still, it’s the women that people remember most.
“The green girls really popped,” she said. “I go into clothing stores in New York, I give them my business card, and people go, ‘Oh my God! Do you remember this one? What happened to it?’” (Some green ladies, such as the Lil’ Kim rendering, which was on Ludlow Street, have not survived.) Now, even as Lohan’s future is undecided, her mural remains.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.