How do you improve upon a well-known, highly regarded work of art?
If you’re Rip Cronk, you make it larger.
Last month the renowned muralist unveiled his latest creation, Venice Kinesis, an updated version of his earlier mural called Venice Reconstituted.
Located on the west wall of Danny’s Deli at the corner of Windward Avenue and Speedway in Venice, the mural has been expanded to the top of the building, and Cronk has added more images to the latest reincarnation of one of his standout works.
In an interview with The Argonaut, the muralist described the evolution of Venice Kinesis, which in Aristotelian philosophy means “motion or change,” and how the latest reconfiguration is reflective of what he sees as the spirit and mindset of the beachside community.
“This is the third version of the same art parody of (Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Paolo) Botticelli,” Cronk explained. “The first one, Venice on a Half Shell, is a play on Venus on the Half Shell, which is what the Botticelli painting is colloquially known as.
“The second was the same idea, just put back together, or reconstituted.”
The original title of Botticelli’s painting is called The Birth of Venus, which depicts the goddess rising from the ocean as a full-grown woman on a clamshell.
A venerable history lesson in acrylic, Venice Reconstituted was painted in 1989 by Cronk and is arguably one of his signature artworks. Through images of the boardwalk’s most recognizable denizens and symbols depicting the community’s historic ties to skateboarding, surfing and bodybuilding, Venice Kinesis is a modern-day visual archive of the subcultures that make the seaside community one of the most visited tourist attractions in Southern California.
“Like any other place, Venice carries that historical past with it, close to the vest. So, it’s the past that really defines who it is as it goes into the future,” said Cronk, whose Ocean Front Walk murals include a self-portrait and the late Doors frontman Jim Morrison called Morning Shot.
Cronk and others see the murals, as well as many of his other paintings, as a portal to the rich past history of Venice, with its artistic trends, its come-as-you-are acceptance and outcast spirit.
“He has taken what is arguably the most famous mural in Venice and expanded on it,” stated Daniel Samakow, the owner of Danny’s Deli. “It really embodies the history and the spirit of Venice.”
Jill Prestup, the president of the Venice Historical Society, noted that the beach community’s art, including Venice Kinesis, has a distinct local flavor. “The eclectic mix of murals, like Rip Cronk’s new mural, tell a story and add so much to the ambiance of Venice,” she said.
Cronk says the expansion of his artwork touches on the fluid nature of Venice, while maintaining the historical images that have made the artistic community universally famous.
“I wanted to emphasize that this is Venice in motion, that Venice is a place of change,” the muralist stressed. “The title says that, the tarot cards say that, and the look of the mural says that.”
Venice Kinesis is evidence that what makes Venice special still exists, according to Stash Maleski, the owner of In Creative Unity Art, a Venice-based art production company that specializes in murals.
“It’s good to see the spirit of Venice is alive and well,” he said.
Cronk has mixed in some new images, like the Venice sign at Windward and Pacific avenues, as well as keeping some icons from the past.
“I try to represent as many of the different subcultures and fads of Venice as I could,” he said. “Of course, there’s so much going on in Venice that I could only get a smattering of it.”
Cronk, who comes back to Venice periodically to repair his murals, said it is his practice to add new features to his wall paintings when he refreshes them. “This way, the mural continues to have a historical reference along with a contemporary one,” he said.
Harry Perry, one of the Venice Boardwalk’s longtime personalities, likes what he sees in Cronk’s new interpretation of Venice. “It’s fantastic. I like it a lot,” said Perry, who skates the boardwalk in a white sikh, a turban and an ever present guitar. “Rip has always had a lot of vision.”
Cronk did some rearranging of a few of the original figures in order to lengthen the mural. The background was changed minimally and a skater from Venice Reconstituted was moved in order to expand the new work of art. “But it’s basically, the same technique and many of the same people,” he said.
Cronk said the building owner, Simone Scharff, was very amenable in assisting him with the project, which included obtaining authorization for the top portion of the building, which was owned by a billboard company.
“I give her a lot of credit,” the muralist said. “It took a while to get the rights to the upper half of the wall because it was used for advertisements, but once that was cleared, we were able to get right to work.”
Prestup says Venice Kinesis, as well as Cronk’s other murals, are not only tourist attractions but also hold an educational component as well.
“They show a very unique history of Venice,” she said. “They’re really quite wonderful.”
Cronk was one of the featured guests at the Venice Art Crawl, a monthly event that began last July where boardwalk merchants host “pop up galleries” that offer lesser-known artists an opportunity to showcase their art.
He displayed to a captive audience some of his ink drawings and watercolors in the upstairs space at Danny’s Deli April 21.
“He’s very iconic in Venice, and it was a big deal to have him there,” said Mike Newhouse, one of the principal organizers of the art crawl.
Cronk participated in the art crawl last year, and sees it as a quintessential Venice enterprise. “It’s outrageously fun,” he said.
“It’s a case where even in the back alleys of Venice at 9 or 10 o’clock at night you’ll have people walking around looking for the new spots for the art crawl, so I think it’s very helpful to the community.
“It’s really a party atmosphere,” the muralist added. “You can’t ask for more than a party with culture.”
Cronk once believed that his murals would hold a certain relevance only during a particular zeitgeist or period of political, cultural and artistic ambiance.
“When I first started putting these murals up in Venice, I thought that they would have a lifespan that would be relevant to the community for a particular period that represented that culture when I put it up, because that’s what I do. I put up a face of culture in a particular time and place,” he recalled.
“In Venice, 10 years down the road, that historical context is more important than it was when I put the piece up. So instead of having a certain life span, and then it’s time to take them down because they no longer have any meaning, the pieces now have more meaning than when I painted them. And because of them I’ve become more significant as a local artist.”
Samakow, who also helped create the art crawl, said Venice Kinesis is on par with the Venice sign as a symbol of the artistic, free-thinking community.
“You can see it from the boardwalk now, and it is the mural that I think a lot of people have always envisioned,” he said. “It is a brilliant mural that truly personifies Venice.”
Perry said different people have disparate opinions about what Venice means to them. He likened Venice Kinesis to a fairy tale book that provides context to the broader story.
“If you opened the book and it was about Disneyland and you saw ‘Escape,’ you may not know all of the stories that Disney would tell, but you would have a good idea where Mickey Mouse lived,” said the boardwalk musician.
Cronk said while his other murals represent ideals about Venice, Venice Kinesis contains a broader view of the pulse, feel and subculture, the past and present, of the eclectic beach community.
“If you want an icon of Venice, it’s this very complex place in change,” the muralist concluded. “And I’m attempting to represent it here.”