Lifestyle - August 1, 2017

Mount Dora: van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is ‘graffiti’ and must be covered

MOUNT DORA — Admirers call Richard Barrenechea’s mural of a world-famous painting art, but the city has another word for it: graffiti.

The Lake County city ordered the homeowner who commissioned the mural of Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night” to cover it up. The city says the painting on a 40-foot-long concrete wall violates city code and must go. Residents have rallied on social media in support of the mural.

“How dare you call that graffiti,” said Barrenechea, who painted the cracked white wall fronting Old Highway 441 near downtown Mount Dora. “Don’t you know a van Gogh painting?”

He said the city is equating the renowned Dutch painter’s artwork with a gang’s scribblings. “Starry Night,” painted in 1889, hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Venice Beach, Calif., also has a “Starry Night” mural.

But last Wednesday, city code enforcement officer Cindy Sommer deemed it graffiti and posted a “courtesy notice” on the door of the home near Sixth Avenue asking the owner to cover or paint it by 5 p.m. Monday.

“They just need to comply and remove it because it’s not allowed,” she said.

Graffiti, which is usually defined as being on public property, is not allowed on residential properties with certain zoning. The mural — which had not been removed by Monday night — is visible to motorists heading west toward Tavares who use a road traveled by nearly 10,000 cars, on average, a day.

If the owner refuses to comply after 10 days, the matter would go before the code enforcement board, during which the owner could make the case for keeping the mural. The city eventually could levy fines of $250 a day until the mural is removed.

Barrenechea, 47, also spray painted a portrait of van Gogh on the wall and aims to blend the “Starry Night” with a mural on the remaining 80 feet of white space depicting city scenes such as Mount Dora’s signature lighthouse. Those plans are on hold.

“You should have seen what it looked like before,” the artist said.

The concrete wall is lumpy and Barrenechea said it was difficult to use as a canvas.

Some called the rendition “ugly” on social media, but that’s beside the point, said Lauren Graham Cunningham, a Mount Dora professional artist.

“What one person loves, one person hates — does that mean we should have government officials weighing in?” she asked.

Central Florida cities have had to wrestle with murals as they become more popular.

Sanford considered a 180-day moratorium in April on murals to reshape its rules concerning them.

Orlando treated wall art as advertising signs until it established a two-year pilot program last year that set rules for new murals. or 352-742-5927.

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