Other Voices: Joan Agajanian Quinn

Joan Agajanian Quinn

Quinn, a journalist and arts advocate, was the longest sitting member appointed to the California Arts Council (1981–97). Quinn recounts her role in the CAC’s commis­sion of Carlos Almaraz and Elsa Flores Almaraz’s mural, California Dreamscape.

Due to my love for public art, I was brought on—along with the state architect and a political appointee—to form the CAC team that would select the art for the building in 1987. We went through the usual procedure of advertising and judging the art to be chosen. We decided on a few artists: Billy Al Bengston, Gwynn Murrill, and the team of Carlos Almaraz and Elsa Flores.

After seeing the prospective work of each artist, we made studio visits as a team and watched the works progress. Carlos and Elsa presented a plan for a very long, lyrical mural with swaying buildings, helicopters, and gusts of wind blown by angels. A jury of builders and politicians who happened to see it immedi­ately squelched the mural. The powers that be asserted their concern that it looked like an earthquake was rocking the city. Needless to say, that was the end of that painting; however, with our selection team’s assistance and because the artists were listening to directions, the couple submitted alternative maquettes. We decided on the right one and their groundwork started. Elsa and Carlos were ready to go.

By this time it was late 1989, and Carlos has been admitted to the hospital in Sherman Oaks. I made several visits to his studio and watched as he and Elsa painted side-by-side. I even saw her take a paintbrush and finish something that was on his canvas while he stood back to examine what she was doing.

After Carlos left us in December of 1989, Elsa finished the piece in what turned out to be one of the hottest summers in L.A. history. Consumed by heat, paint fumes, and sleepless nights and in mourning for her beloved husband, Elsa did it! She finished what the two of them had started side-by-side in their tiny studio.

 

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