14th Street mural artist: ‘It was both symbol and painting’

October 14, 2013

Larry Mullins's "Lovers" mural was a 14th Street fixture for 21 years, until the property manager of the building that supported the mural had it painted over earlier this month.

"I'm delighted it lasted 21 years -- and regret it's now only particle," Mullins said by e-mail. " Like rock n' roll - it had a love hook and plenty of space for interpretation ... Hard to believe no one ever built in front of it."

Mullins now lives in Beverly Hills and found out that his mural had been erased when someone passed along our earlier post about the mural. The building is going to become an Amsterdam Falafelshop, and the building's landlord painted over the decaying mural to make the storefront a "professional building" that looked more like the other storefronts in the area. Because Mullins's signature had flaked off of the mural, not even the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities had been able to identify its creator, and its cryptic image had long lent an aura of mystery and personality to a rapidly gentrifying area of the city.


(Maura Judkis/for The Post)

Mullins said that he did not paint the mural illegally, as the building's manager had alleged. A former development director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre (which used to be located at 14th and Church streets NW) received permission from the building's owner for Mullins to paint the mural. At the time, the building was occupied by a Somali restaurant called Mogadishu. Donations funded the scaffolding and paint, and Mullins was not paid for his time.

"My decision to take that particular wall was guided by the condition of the surface and location," Mullins wrote. "I thought it might survive longer than the others. I made a study."

He painted the mural over the course of two months, and the photo below shows what it looked like in its original state. He completed the mural in July 1992 and signed it with his street name: Mujubu Mullins. "In terms of content – my desire was to make a strong... optimistic painting," Mullins wrote. The mural's "madreselva" (Spanish for honeysuckle) inscription was a tribute to a romantic relationship. "Honeysuckle – correct – a term of endearment," Mullins wrote.


Courtesy of Larry Mullins

Mullins is disappointed to see the mural go, but grateful that it had an impact on 14th Street passersby.

"It was both symbol and painting. It wasn't necessary to have any info about the narrative to be affected by the sympathetic nature of the two characters," Mullins wrote. "In addition, it represented the last surviving mural of an earlier phase of my career – just before I dropped the figures, came indoors and began making the language paintings I'm known for now. Although now,  the painting process is more nuanced and detailed, I'm constantly trying to maintain the blunt quality from my street work 20 years ago. I'll miss knowing it's there – affecting the tenor of the neighborhood."

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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Margaret Ely | October 14, 2013