This artist’s ‘Heavy Metal’ mural is making noise in North Hollywood
Renee Howard remembers the feeling of awe the first time she saw Watts Towers, the colossal spires Simon Rodia built and covered with broken tile, glass, sea shells and pottery.
“When I was in grade school, I went there on a field trip. And it blew my mind,” Howard said. “I didn’t know how I could do that someday. … And then I did.”
It was decades later, as an adult, that Howard made her first mosaic mural, in her backyard using objects she had gathered her entire life. On Sunday, she’ll unveil her eighth project with a block party and music, on Vanowen Street in North Hollywood.
It’s a 45-foot wall covered with curving bands of color, strings of light and all variety of objects. There are forks and spoons, toy cars and press-on fingernails in day-glo colors, cookie tins, lighters shaped like guitars, keys, a dartboard, makeup brushes, an iron, too many things to name. Thousands of La Croix and Sierra Nevada cans make up bands of pink, green and blue.
While Howard searched for a place to do this project, a musician friend offered his front wall and sidewalk as her canvas. The friend, Bob Vaughan, is co-owner of a Burbank music school, The Music Junction. Howard took her inspiration from Vaughan’s profession and created the “Heavy Metal Wall,” so named because of the mass of metal objects in it, and an adjacent “Rock ‘n’ Roll Sidewalk,” with an embedded microphone, toy keyboard, drumsticks, guitar picks and a full-size guitar.
“I’m a former hoarder,” Howard admitted. “I had a house full of knick-knacks and just, stuff. … My husband was like, ‘You’ve got to do something with all of this.’ So I started gluing it to the walls in my backyard. And I just loved doing it. I loved the patterns and I loved the three-dimensional (aspect).”
Howard isn’t an artist either by education or profession. She owns two small businesses, a talent agency called BBA and an IT, consulting and event planning services company called It’s No Problem. Her art practice is Pastiche Gardens, referring to the hodgepodge of objects in her murals.
This mural is certainly eye-catching, especially alongside the vine-covered cinder block walls next to it. As Howard talked, a couple passing by stopped in their tracks when they spotted the mural. A woman riding her bike loaded with groceries shouted, “Wow, cool! So neat!”
Howard’s work is gaining followers online, making her somewhat locally known. But she’s modest about her creations.
“It’s really weird,” Howard said. “I didn’t ever expect to do anything for more than just the neighborhood that I go to. And to have people coming from far away to see – I know someone is coming from San Luis Obispo. I’m like, ‘Why would you do that?’”
Howard is a fan of public art, like the Watts Towers, that is available to anyone. And the public has been involved in the process, too. Over the 11 months she worked on this mural, Howard met perhaps 300 to 400 people. Some came once, others, like people who live in the neighborhood, returned again and again to see the mural’s progress. Sometimes people driving down Vanowen Street would notice it and pull over to check it out. People would bring her things to incorporate, sometimes leaving them for her.
Other items she collected herself, such as 200 pounds of scrap metal that she bought for $30 that included silverware. She filled empty vodka bottles with colored sand (the sand is a leftover toy from her son’s childhood years). She used M & M candies she had saved from a cousin’s wedding a few years ago, printed with the faces of the bride and groom. There is a sunburst pattern of calculators. Burbank karaoke bar Dimples closed in 2015. For their competitions, they gave out calculators as prizes, and those are now part of Howard’s mural.
“Everything has a history,” Howard said. “I like the fact that when something is ready to be thrown out and it has no use, I can find another use for it here. Twenty things of tweezers,” she continued, pointing out another part of the mural. “Nobody wants 20 things of tweezers.” But through Howard’s eyes, these objects become something new.
The Sunday block party is open to anyone who wants to come see Howard’s mural. It’s from 4 to 7 p.m. at 11112 Vanowen St. in North Hollywood.