‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ joins Murals of La Jolla lineup


During his visit to La Jolla last summer to give an art lecture at UC San Diego, multi-media artist Kota Ezawa visited the Salk Institute and was struck by the Louis Kahn-designed architecture. “It left an impression on me,” he said.

Just over a year after that visit, Ezawa’s La Jolla-inspired work can be seen as the latest in the Murals of La Jolla public art program. His piece, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” went up in early September at 7905 Herschel Ave. on the Citibank Building. It replaces “at sea” by Ann Hamilton.

The image is of Kahn, pensively looking up, superimposed with the Salk Institute plaza. “When I think about La Jolla, what sticks out to me was that visit to the Salk Institute,” he said. “I’m a visual artist, not an architect. But it is well known that the Institute is one of Kahn’s most important buildings. I wanted to have him in the piece also. To me, it’s an homage to La Jolla and Salk.” The image was “drawn” on a computer and printed out.

Murals of La Jolla curator Lynda Forsha said it is a welcomed addition.

“Many make a pilgrimage to La Jolla to see this remarkable building and Kota is reminding us that it’s right here in our backyard,” she said. “When I saw his proposal, I thought, ‘aha, what a brilliant observation and not surprising that it takes an astute artist from outside our community to see it so clearly.’ And as Kota’s title suggests, it’s something that happened a long time ago and, unfortunately, major artistic collaborations like this don’t happen often enough.

“The Art Advisory Committee for Murals of La Jolla has been following Kota’s work for some time and we were thrilled that he was willing to participate in the project. Typically, his work references images from popular culture or history, which he distills to focus our attention on significant moments in time. We were excited to see what he would come up with for this very important site in La Jolla.”

Typically a video artist, Ezawa has only recently delved into public art, but said he has yet to create a piece of this magnitude.

“I love doing public art because it broadens the conversation. In a gallery, you dialogue with experts and educated viewers and students. But if you put something out in the public, you are in conversation with everyone,” he said. “A piece like this one takes on a life of its own. Maybe someone will pass by and ask who it is, and that will lead them to the Salk Institute, which I think is a magical place. Even if people just like the colors, that is a great reaction. Or if they don’t like it, that’s good, too. At least they are talking.”

He was born and raised in Germany (with a mix of German and Japanese ethnicity). “Every kid loves to make art, but I was into drawing from a child-age on. I was never going to launch a career as a scientist or serious academic. I played in rock and punk bands doing electronic music. At some point, you choose what you want to sink your teeth into. For me it was art,” he explained. “In the 1990s, when I was a student, video was a really new thing. Now everyone has video on their phones.” He has also explored sculpture.

Ezawa said he came to the United States as an undergrad in 1994 to study art in San Francisco. While he intended to stay for a year-and-a-half, a job at a local gallery and meeting his now wife prompted him to stay.

Currently “at home” in California, he has other pieces in the works, including some statues for public spaces in the Bay Area and a mural for the San Francisco International Airport.

“I feel very lucky that I get to do what I do, and especially lucky that I get to participate in the Murals of La Jolla program,” he said. “I’ve seen the others works on display, and I feel great to have my work shown alongside them.”

For more on the history of the Murals of La Jolla program, visit

A free, guided walking tour of the collection is slated for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27 from the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St. RSVP: 858.454.5872.
Mackin writes for the La Jolla Light.