Growing up on the west side of Los Angeles, an area littered with graffiti, Jonas Never has been a spray paint artist almost his entire life. Starting out simple, like most artists do, the 36-year-old quickly realized he wanted to evolve from letters and start painting murals with subjects that evoked feeling. Those early works had a common theme, focusing either on pinup or rockabilly, though it allowed him to transition to more realistic work. Now, Never is one of the city’s most recognizable, and busy, artists.
But despite a wealth of talent, Never didn’t expect to make a career out of creating murals.
“I thought I was going to bartend my whole life,” he laughed. “Like Coach from Cheers, or something. “Before that, I thought I was going to be a baseball player – I guess that makes me more like Sam from Cheers instead.
Baseball has long been an influence on Never, who recently unveiled a 60-by-20-foot mural atop of Blues Baby BBQ, which will soon open its newest spot in Echo Park, located just outside of Chavez Ravine – the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The mural features Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner doing his now infamous pose after a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series last postseason against the Chicago Cubs. Accompanying the image is a pinup that is using an old-style round barbecue grill, along with the Dodger Stadium scoreboard in the background. Turner himself even came out to see the finished product, take photos and tag it with his signature.
With a ton of works to his credit, Never often incorporates pop culture and sports references into his lifelike works, which include famous film scenes, or celebrities like chef Anthony Bourdain, ESPN’s Stuart Scott and actor Charlie Hunam. But where does Never get the inspiration to recreate his subjects?
“Sometimes I choose a subject matter because I really want to paint it,” Never admitted. “That can be for fun, for a commission, for a personal connection, or because it’s really relevant at that moment. Other times, I’ll focus more on tying the subject matter to the area – like a movie that took place there or the sports team that plays in the area or a band that’s from there. Best case scenario is when someone hires me to paint something I really want to paint in the area where it makes the most sense.”
Painting such elaborate sprawling murals used to take Never an absorbent amount of time but having done it for so long, he seems to have it down to a science. The timing of each project really depends on the size and the set up. The recent Dodgers mural took about a week simply because Never had to climb two rooftops to get to it and then move his ladder around the slanted roof as he was spraying. Elaborate portraits like Bourdain, Scott and Tom Petty each took anywhere from a day to a day and half.
But the crowning achievement thus far for Never is a 102-by-50-foot black and white image called Touch of Venice, which is an adaptation of a scene from the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil, on the side of a four-story building at the edge of the Venice Boardwalk. It has become a landmark in its own right. The mural depicts that exact street, Windward Avenue, as it looked in the 1950s. It took Never, who was years younger at the time, somewhere between three and fourth months to complete – thanks in part to only being able to use one or two parking spots worth of space each day. The mural really helped build Never’s reputation and it holds a special place in his heart – and on his back, as a tattoo.
“My huge Venice piece has always had a special place in my heart,” said Never. “It’s my biggest piece – though this fall I’ll do one that’s even bigger – and the location is incredible. The fact that it’s a larger than life part of the town I grew up in is pretty unreal to me!”
Never’s work is flooded throughout Instagram and other social media apps with fans and onlookers wanting to capture a piece of his artwork to share with their followers. But sometimes that can backfire. Last month, NBA mega-star LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, causing the fan base to lose their collective minds and Never saw this as an opportunity to offer somewhat of a welcome to “King James.” Unfortunately, the mural was vandalized and it quickly made national news. In the end, it taught Never a valuable lesson about the subject matter of his artwork.
“My takeaway from that was that apparently the two things you don’t paint in L.A. are anything positive for [Donald] Trump, which I wouldn’t do, and anything that could be interpreted as against Kobe [Bryant].”
Still, with such an eclectic subject range – our favorite is Michael ‘Squints’ Palledorous from The Sandlot – Never’s art is bound to get the attention of those featured in it. Subjects sometimes reach out to him in the hope of coming by and taking some photos with the mural, while others simply chat online and compliment his work. But it’s the family and friends of the people he paints as memorial portraits that really leave an impact – and there’s one particular meeting that stands out in Never’s mind, one that had a major effect.
“Meeting Stuart Scott’s daughters and wife at his portrait was a day I will never forget.”
Los Angeles isn’t the only spot that Never’s art calls home. In recent years, the artist has visited cities like Lexington, Kentucky to create local pieces – this specific one honored some of the state’s notable figures, such as basketball star Anthony Davis and actor George Clooney. Never admits that he loves both traveling and painting and part of the fun in combining the two is the ability to create heroes and history that the locals identify with – and that even tourists can identify. He’s already made plans to head to Nashville and Tempe, Arizona, with another trip back to Kentucky slated for next year.
And there are still several notable names and locations Never has on his painting bucket list, including spraying NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. at either North Carolina or Daytona Beach, singer Buddy Holly in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas and something involving singer Ray Charles. For now though, fans can enjoy his Dodgers mural as they head to the ballpark and root the team towards another potential World Series appearance, something Never, a die-hard Dodgers fan, would love to see.
“I could totally see a Dodgers and [Houston] Astros rematch,” he admitted. “The [Arizona] D’backs and the [Boston] Red Sox are really good too and the [Oakland] A’s are playing like Moneyball part two, so it should be a fun rest of the season. That being said, I’d love to see Turner and the Dodgers win it all!”