DOWNEY − This week the Downey City Council unanimously approved $16,000 from the Art in Public Places fund to install a mural of Don Lamkin’s art piece “Downey Doodle-icious” on the east wall of the parking structure belonging to Porto’s Cuban Bakery. The 16-foot-high copy of the popular painting will face Downey Avenue, and is the latest in a series of civic enhancements to the city’s historic commercial area.
This is the first time that the city has awarded such a contract to a Downey artist.
The agreement is the result of long negotiations between the city, the artist, and Porto’s Bakery, which owns the property.
“Doodle-icious” is already well-known around Downey, and many residents own high-quality copies of the original 24” X 36” acrylic drawing on canvas. The colorful work is a collage of well-known Downey businesses and landmarks (past and present), musical groups, school mascots, organizations, and even zip codes.
“I poured all my memories about my great upbringing in this town into this painting,” explains Lamkin. “The painting includes all of the things that make me feel proud about Downey.”
Images include the Rives Mansion, the Apollo space capsule, Columbia space shuttle, Downey YMCA, the Avenue Theater, All-American Home Center, Del Rio Lanes, and the mascots for Warren and Downey high schools. Porto’s Bakery, which was still new at that time, is visible, along with images representing long-time popular eateries such as the historic McDonald’s, Stox, El Taco, and Johnny’s Broiler.
Councilman Mario Guerra has been a prime mover behind the project. “This mural is the exclamation point for Downtown Downey,” he says. “It’s a great way to highlight Downtown and make it walkable.”
As a member of the council’s subcommittee for Downtown revitalization, Guerra said he had several other ideas for a mural along Downey Avenue; but when he saw Lamkin’s art piece, he knew it was the right choice. “It has a timeless quality and fits right in with our Downtown specific plan.”
The original painting was conceived in 2012 as a way to help raise money to revitalize the Downey Museum of Art which used to be at Furman Park. Serious management problems had prompted the city to close the building, but a new board of directors was organized, hoping to save the extensive collection.
Board members, which included Lamkin at that time, saw the upcoming Downey Street Fair as an opportunity to publicize the need for the public’s help. Lamkin volunteered to create something for an opportunity drawing and fellow board member George Manzanillo suggested a collage of Downey images with a pop-art flavor. Lamkin had already done a similar, smaller piece with personal images for a friend’s birthday.
The DMOA logo at the center of the painting underscores the purpose of the piece to save the museum. Spaced about are logos of other emerging art groups, including the Downey Arts Coalition and Downey ArtVibe. Downey’s music history is represented with images recalling Wenzel’s Music Town, where the international surf hit Pipeline was recorded, Middle Earth Records, and two internationally-known music groups from Downey - the Carpenters and the Blasters.
Lamkin says the painting ended up having so much personal meaning for him that he didn’t want to let it go. He had included his dog, the old “spaceship” for climbing in the playground at Furman Park, and the street sign from where he grew up. At that point he conceived of the idea of ten high-quality giclee prints on canvas.
Fronting $2,000 of his own money to order prints, Lamkin kept the original and donated Print #1 for the opportunity drawing, The drawing raised nearly $1,000 for the museum, and the remaining nine prints attracted so much interest that Lamkin ordered a second series of high quality prints, this time a little smaller in size and less expensive, but on museum quality paper. A certain portion of each sale is donated to various local art groups.
High quality copies of the popular painting are owned by many residents, and two of the giclee-on-canvas copies hang in the council offices at City Hall. Guerra owns Print #4 and will be taking his home when he is termed out of office in December.
Lamkin, a retired firefighter from Santa Fe Springs, is a self-taught artist who enjoys exploring a variety of genres and media. He has been drawing and designing since childhood, but “never had an art class.” Years ago he did two portraits on salvaged cabinet doors of musicians Buddy Guy and James Harman. His portfolio also includes stylized geometric images.
Lamkin is generous with his talent, and painted two guitars to be used for fundraising to support the Make Music Downey music festivals. The free, public, one-day festivals were sponsored by the Downey Arts Coalition. Lamkin has served as the organization’s Vice President since its inception three years ago.
Lamkin’s latest works are large, realistic pencil drawings of animals and people. He credits nationally-known artist Steve Clay, who now resides in Downey, with inspiring this interest.
Friends joke that Lamkin is a Renaissance man – Downey’s “most interesting man.” In addition to his artwork, he races motorcycles in the national Thruxton Cup Series at 10 different tracks around the country, placing seventh nationally this year, and twice before coming in fifth.
Last year Lamkin made a trip by motorcycle with a friend to the Arctic Circle. He and the friend, a fellow racer, were gone for the month of July. A detailed image of himself on a motorcycle is prominently centered at the bottom of “Doodle-icious.”
For a team sport, Lamkin plays hockey with the LEAF League in Southern California – Law Enforcement and Firefighters. In between the sports and the art, Lamkin visits his ranch north of St. George several times a year. The 33-acre ranch is home to twenty-two head of Angus cattle.
Lamkin is the youngest of seven children and grew up in Downey. His father was a businessman and executive, and his mother taught music and singing. At one time she toured with a national theater company.
Lamkin says there was always lots of music in the house, and he is close friends with many musicians, including Dave and Phil Alvin of the Blasters, who also grew up in Downey. Several times a year Lamkin travels to Austin, Texas, and enjoys the music scene.
Despite his wide-ranging interests and travels, Lamkin is obviously committed to the community where he has lived all of his life. He presently serves officially as a Downey Public Works Commissioner, and says he will continue serving the city in whatever way he can.
Published: Nov. 13, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 31