There is even a mug shot of Anderson on the flyer. I ask him if he’s ever been in trouble with the law. “Not since I was a teenager in Escondido,” he says. “And then it was just for petty vandalism. I think I know what happened. A number of months ago, a sheriff came around where I was painting and hanging out. He took pictures of a number of us.”
Mike Paeske says he had nothing to do with the mug shots. “We’re in the property-management business,” he says. “The sheriff’s department must have put out the mug shots. They’re trying to get a handle on the lawlessness in this area. The transient population is not making it easy.”
I contact the Cal-Photo office at the California Department of Justice. An official tells me that law enforcement agencies are allowed to give businesses the program’s photos as long as they don’t display them publicly. What they can do is call the police if one of the people in the photos shows up in their stores. The photos are obtained from law enforcement agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Meanwhile, Anderson wondered whether any legal rights could have given him more control over his mural. “It feels like the sheriff’s department is censoring my work,” he says. A search of the Internet turned up two relevant laws. In 1979, the California Art Preservation Act gave protection to works of “fine art,” which meant, at least in part, that the work’s purchaser does not use it for commercial purposes. Anderson’s mural might not have met that qualification, since it was purchased to call attention to businesses. More useful in his case could have been the 1990 federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects certain public works of art from being changed or destroyed without giving the artist 90 days to remove them.
On April 2, the Los Angeles Times reported on the legal struggles of artist Kent Twitchell, whose six-story mural on the side of a building in downtown Los Angeles was painted over. The mural had been dedicated to pop artist Ed Ruscha. In 1962, Ruscha’s work appeared alongside Andy Warhol’s in a famous exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) called New Painting of Common Objects. “In the case of ‘Ed Ruscha Monument,’ ” according to the Times, “Twitchell settled his lawsuit against the U.S. government and 11 other defendants in 2008, for $1.1 million, believed to be the largest amount ever awarded” under the federal and California laws.
“ ‘I would have been a monster to let it go; the precedent that it would have set for public art would have been terrible — we had to fight it,’ Twitchell said.”
Kevin Anderson finally hired a carpenter to remove his mural from the San Elijo Retail Center, the underlying wood and all. The painting now leans against the wall in his studio at home. Several days later, one of the liquor store’s windows was smashed.