Prolific muralist Jonas Never, discovered by Floyd’s 99 barbershops, leaves his mark by staying true to sense of place
By Michael Aushenker
Jonas Never’s career as a muralist started over a beer.
About eight years ago, Never was catching a Colorado Rockies game at JP Sports Bar & Grill in Santa Monica and asked a courier returning one of his paintings from an art show to deliver it to him at the bar.
The work caught the eye of customer Bill O’Brien, who just happened to own the Denver-based Floyd’s 99 barbershop chain and was in town to open up a Santa Monica location.
From that chance encounter the then-graffiti artist entered the mural business, painting interior art for the Floyd’s on Santa Monica Boulevard and a second mural inside the Venice Floyd’s on Lincoln Boulevard, across from Baby Blues BBQ.
Baby Blues’ Chef Danny Fischer saw the inside of Floyd’s and soon the southern exterior wall of Baby Blues got the Never touch, with a mural including a map of California, a pin-up girl and “Dukes of Hazzard” character Boss Hogg driving a Cadillac.
Never, who has since created some of Venice and Mar Vista’s most visible public murals, now has work at 15 Floyd’s 99 locations. Floyd’s 99 Director of Facilities Amy Hunn calls Never “a part of the family. He is a very talented artist who puts his heart into everything he paints. It’s been really great to see his portfolio grow with projects that most artists only dream about.”
Never, 32, lived in Venice for a decade before recently relocating to downtown Culver City’s arts district and his visual landscape often refers to the Dogtown of his youth — scenes of skaters, graffiti artists and home-grown bands, including Suicidal Tendencies.
Never also mélanges elements from 1980s movies he was weaned on — films such as “The Outsiders,” “Stand By Me,” and, as represented on the Encino Floyd’s wall, “The Karate Kid.”
His father, screenwriter Alan Swyer of 1978’s “The Buddy Holly Story” (“Never” is a pseudonym the artist chose to distance his graffiti persona from his then-thriving interest in playing baseball), also imparted a taste for rockabilly and 1950s film noir — hence, Never’s ode to Orson Welles’ policier “Touch of Evil” in his mural “Touch of Venice,” which adorns the side of Danny’s Venice. Welles shot the landmark opening shot of his 1958 film at the mural’s location.
Daniel Samakow, owner of Danny’s Venice, James’ Beach and the Canal Club, likened Never favorably to muralist Rip Cronk. “He’s also incredibly nice and unassuming, but gives a lot of thought to what his pieces represent,” he said.
“The mural, in my mind, looks best at night,” Samakow said of “Touch of Venice.” “Few murals work on so many levels, and it instantly became iconic.”
“Touch of Venice” replaced “a fabulous but badly faded Terry Schoenhoven piece. Terry did not wish it restored, as I understand it, so a new piece had to be created,” Samakow said. “Jonas [painted] a similar idea but showcasing the view west, focusing on the columns, creating almost an illusion that the columns continued.”
Never relies on deep research to tailor his murals to their environs. He’ll seek out local lore, architecture and historical photos before designing his work.
For Mar Vista’s Floyd’s 99 and AMF Mar Vista Lanes, catty-corner from each other at Venice Boulevard and Grand View, Never sourced vintage signage and automobiles. To goose the homey barbershop feel, he recreated a family portrait (including grandparents, parents, siblings and the family dog) on Floyd’s.
In the case of a less well-documented community such as Mar Vista, Never might draw on iconography from other sources, such as the topography of his father’s native Asbury Park, New Jersey. On AMF’s western exterior wall is a favorite band, New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem.
“Bars are another great reservoir for local history. There’s so much stuff you never know unless you talk to people,” Never said.
“As long as you can kind of evoke that nostalgia …” he continued of the bowling alley. “That’s why I put the Santa Monica Pier in the background, because it’s kind of nearby.”
Other local murals Never has created include an “Easy Rider”-era Dennis Hopper at Market Street and Horizon Avenue; “Pumping Iron”-era Arnold Schwarzenegger on Speedway and 18th Avenue, on the other side from Cronk’s monumental Jim Morrison mural; and pieces at Brick and Mortar on Main Street in Santa Monica as well as Melody Bar and Grille in Westchester.
A recent mural on Pork Belly’s Sandwich Shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard provided him the rare collaboration, adding a famous Z-Boy — skateboarding pioneer Jay Adams — to artist Bron Theron’s piece.
“It was nice not being responsible for the whole piece,” Never said. “I got to focus my energy to making sure that Jay Adams is perfect.”
Busting out pieces at Floyd’s locations in Chicago, Boston and Detroit, Never relied on conversations with acquaintances from said cities, online research, and getting to know the areas personally in order to get the details right.
But he reserves special affection for his Venice and Mar Vista murals.
“I get to see it every day,” Never said. “These are the neighborhoods I grew up in.”
Because he is so in-demand, works alone and has only so much time, Never now tends to accept only passion projects. His dream gig: he would fly to North Carolina “in a heartbeat” to paint NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt somewhere.
Samakow was initially skeptical about Never’s monochromatic “Touch of Venice.”
“But, again he was right. The black and white added to its standing out from other murals,” said Samakow, who credits the piece with helping to revitalize the nightlife scene near Windward Circle.
The muralist just finished another Venice piece this week: St. Mark at Speedway and Zephyr Court, commissioned by General Real Estate (his Dennis Hopper client).
Next up for Never: a Long Beach Floyd’s, possibly followed by upcoming Orange County locations.
“I’d love to do a piece in Fullerton [and pay tribute to local heroes Social Distortion],” he said. “I’d love to paint [Long Beach legends] Sublime on the side of the Queen Mary.”
Nearing a decade as a muralist, Never continues to divine inspiration from local flavor.
“As long as I find subject matter that appeals to me, I love trying to do it justice,” he said. “I don’t want everything to look like it’s in the same vein. That challenge makes me want to get up in the morning and get to the wall.”
For more information about Never’s work, visit cult-classics.com.