Making a Statement for Oceans

Adam Corlin transformed a Santa Monica property into a conceptual billboard supporting ocean protection efforts with the help of graffiti artists Risk and Retna.
For three months this summer, massive blue and black tarps draped over Adam Corlin’s Santa Monica property in what seemed to be a gigantic construction project.

When Corlin bought the neglected home earlier this year, it hadn’t been lived in for years, except for the occasional transient, and it was covered in unwelcome graffiti.

“I looked at it and said, this looks like a billboard,” Corlin said.

Corlin, a builder and supporter of local Santa Monica organization Heal the Bay, decided that if companies can use billboards to sell products, he wanted to use his home to temporarily send a message about the pollution fouling the world’s oceans. So on the morning of September 8, the tarps were stripped away to reveal a stunning four-story mural painted by famous graffiti artists Risk and Retna. The design, entitled “Oceans at Risk,” is composed of 138 homemade panels, 4 feet across and 4 feet wide, each painted by hand at Risk’s studio and transported in secret to Corlin’s house. Risk, a New Orleans native and experienced surfer, said that the message appealed to him, particularly in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill. “I’ve wanted to do something for charity, and this concept of water came up,” said Risk. “It sounded perfect.”

Risk created a theme of colors that melt from a fiery orange into red, purple-black and finally the cool blue of the ocean. Each layer represents a different piece of the elements, he said, with the orange and red evoking the sky, and the dark, bruise-like colors the pollution that damages the purity underneath.

Retna infused Risk’s artwork with rows of his signature script that fuses influences from Egyptian hieroglyphics, Old English, Arabic, Hebrew and Asian calligraphy. His bold white lettering translates into “Oceans at Risk,” “Heal the Bay,” “Sea Shepherd” (after the nonprofit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) and “Mad Society”, which is what the group of graffiti artists who work with Risk and Retna call themselves.

Unforeseen obstacles soon followed the mural’s unveiling, however. The city of Santa Monica quickly issued Corlin a citation that stated the artwork was an unsafe public nuisance. “Aside from all thoughts on the intent, message and look of the panels, my approach…is that it is a health and safety concern and a hazard subject to immediate removal,” Santa Monica’s building official Ron Takiguchi told The Los Angeles Times.

City officials also warned Corlin that without a proper permit, he could face fines of up to $5,000 a day.

“I never thought that you would have to apply for a permit on a private property to install a piece of art,” he said.

But with the assistance of attorney Christine Arden, the City of Santa Monica did not refer any violation to the City Attorney for prosecution. Therefore, no fines were levied and the mural was able to stay up on September 17 to promote Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day. It was taken down soon after on September 19, and months of art-making were able to relay the mural’s message: “Restore and protect the world’s oceans.”

“It’s about friendship, it’s about family, it’s about inspiring our children, our next generation that they can make a difference,” Corlin told one reporter.