Award-winning artist Andre Miripolsky breathes new life into the Los Angeles art scene with his whimsical creations that celebrate the city’s culture and history.
BY: Kamala Kirk
American art has been enriched by artists from around the world who immigrated to the United States, helping to shape the cultural scene with their unique contributions. Among these influential artists is Andre Miripolsky, who is recognized worldwide for his vivid works that pay tribute to Los Angeles. Born in Paris, Miripolsky spent the first 18 years of his life abroad due to his father’s job as a cultural advisor for the American Foreign Service. He credits his nomadic childhood with setting the stage for his career as an artist. “My father was also an artist and always had a studio, so wherever we lived I could go work in there,” Miripolsky says. “It was a way to entertain myself and create something that people would positively respond to. The one consistency in my life that saved me was art. It’s been saving me my entire life.”
From an early age, Miripolsky demonstrated an aptitude for the arts, starting to paint at the age of eight; by the time he was 10, he sold his first piece to the American Ambassador of Indonesia. At 13, Miripolsky accompanied his father to the Venice Biennale, Italy’s famed international art exhibition, where he was exposed to artists from the American pop art school like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. But despite the promising talent he demonstrated along with the support he received from his parents, Miripolsky wanted to be an actor. “The biggest argument I had with my father was when he wanted me to go to art school and I wanted to go to theater school,” he recalls. “I thought I would have a lonely life as an artist, whereas being an actor looked exciting.” After graduating from Seoul American High School in 1969, Miripolsky moved to Los Angeles and was the first acting student accepted into the CalArts School of Theater.
Throughout his twenties, he experienced much success in repertory theatre, but the stressful life of a stage actor began to take its toll; while playing the part of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1976, Miripolsky was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Burnt out, the actor decided to hang up his costume and pick up his brush. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Miripolsky held his first art show in a friend’s apartment, selling a thousand dollars’ worth of art in one night. For the next few years, he painted and participated in shows, but his big break came in 1980 when he received an invitation to decorate costumes for Elton John’s world tour. One of the pieces Miripolsky created was the singer’s piano outfit that remains rock ‘n’ roll iconic to this day. “I’d never done costumes before, but it’s about being prepared when opportunity knocks,” he muses. “He wore the embroidered outfit in front of 400,000 people in Central Park. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime gigs.”
On the heels of his newfound success, Miripolsky quit waiting tables at Pasadena’s Hamburger Hamlet, finally able to fulfill his dream of being self-employed. Shortly after, he found himself in the company of Los Angeles restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, who tapped him to create installations for Spago Restaurants in Los Angeles and Tokyo. A near-fatal car crash landed Miripolsky in the hospital in 1984; he spent his recovery period assembling autobiographical illustrations inspired by the experience. Since then, his career highlights spanning the last three decades have included an Absolut Vodka campaign; muralizing the center basketball court for MTV at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, which remains the only basketball court to be fully painted and played on; a live performance art piece in collaboration with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; creating original artwork for the music segments on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; and commissions from Mattel, Bette Midler and Quincy Jones, to name a few. When walking around downtown, it’s hard to miss Miripolsky’s work—be it a sculpture in the Central City Association’s lobby, a mural in Pershing Square, or his signature “Viva LA” catchphrase on billboards. Also an advocate of giving back, Miripolsky serves on the boards of the LA Art Alliance, the Downtown Art Walk, and the Hollywood Arts Council.
Not one to show signs of slowing down creatively, Miripolsky is already working on his next big project: the LA Historama. Slated for the LA Convention Center, his installation will depict the past, present and future of Los Angeles in stained glass panels manufactured by Highland Park-based Judson Studios, founded in Los Angeles in 1897. “To illustrate the history of Los Angeles in such a profound way is reaching my goal of ‘making it,’” says Miripolsky. “It has a very deep emotional impact for me as a citizen and as an immigrant to the city. I could not be more overjoyed, honored and blessed to have this opportunity to give back to the place that I came to in order to achieve the American dream.”