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Chester Bennington Memorial Mural Stops Traffic on L.A.’s 101 Freeway

While friends and family of Chester Bennington gathered last weekend in Palos Verdes, Calif., to honor the memory of the late Linkin Park vocalist, a different kind of personal tribute went up on a 20-foot wall in back of a newly opened Sherman Oaks pizzeria bordering the 101 freeway.

Local muralist Jonas Never, a former college baseball player-turned-artist, spent two days with spray cans and house paint, creating his tribute to the rocker that now looms just past the Coldwater Canyon exit, adorning the side of Rock’n Pies Pizza Co. on Riverside Drive.

“I grew up listening to [Chester],” says the 35-year-old Venice, Calif., native, whose influences include the graffiti art and decks of Dogtown, Bulldog Skates, and the Seventh Letter collective that, in turn, had a profound effect on Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. “I used to take the pitching mound to the sound of ‘One Step Closer’ (off of debut album ‘Hybrid Theory’).”

The pizza joint is one of two recently opened by Boston native Jim Conners – the other is on Wilshire Blvd. between Lincoln Blvd. and 14th Street in Santa Monica — who came to Los Angeles in 1995 for film, but ended up in the restaurant business.

Never created a number of indoor murals for the Santa Monica location, including one of Guns N’ Roses based on an image that adorns the side of Canter’s Deli, except the members are downing slices instead of pastrami. There are also wall renderings of Kurt Cobain eating pizza and the Beastie Boys standing in front of a local pizzeria.

“I’d been seeing that big blank wall from the 101 and thought it would be good for something,” says Never, who also created the Dave Grohl mural which adorns the eatery’s front. “When I heard Chester died, I immediately thought of that wall because I knew some of the band members lived in the Valley. I just texted Jim and offered to do it for free because it was the right thing to do.”

The looming portrait of Bennington shows him at peace, rather than the intense, animated figure he was on-stage.

“I stumbled across this publicity still of him, smiling, very recognizable, with all his tattoos visible,” Never explains. “I thought it would be better than having him up there screaming.”

Never compares his mix of street culture, fine art, and 1950s advertisements to Linkin Park’s musical hybrid. His goal for his series of memorial murals is to create a site-specific tribute for community icons – his work includes pieces for Elliott Smith in Silver Lake, Tupac Shakur in South Central, and Sublime in Long Beach.

As someone whose subjects include “music, movies, and sports,” Never’s work includes a Stuart Scott “Boo Ya” mural adorning the Melody Bar and Grill on Sepulveda Blvd. by LAX; a Lonzo Ball piece on Spectrum’s El Segundo offices opposite the Lakers’ training facilities; and a Brandon Ingram work donated to the Covenant House shelter for homeless youth in East Hollywood, which was part of Delta Airlines’ “Beyond the Court” campaign. Perhaps his most visible piece is his sprawling “Touch of Venice” mural on Windward Avenue by the boardwalk.

As for Rock’n Pies owner Conners, he is already reaping the benefits of Never’s work, even before this Thursday’s official opening.

“I was leaving the kitchen last night at 11:30, and I was greeted by flashing lights, people taking pictures,” Conners tells Variety. “When Jonas was working on it, everyone in their cars on the 101 were beeping their horns and cheering him on. It was pretty cool. Now there’s something to look at while you’re stuck in traffic.”

And while he’s been a successful artist for a little more than a decade, Never still finds it hard to believe, which explains why he hasn’t branched into T-shirts and design (with the exception of a Boo-Ya sneaker/NVR Shoes hook-up, donating a portion of proceeds to the Stuart Scott Foundation for cancer research). “It doesn’t feel real to me, which is why I haven’t taken the time to capitalize on it. I’m still too busy doing murals and canvasses.”

To see a portfolio of Never’s work, go to www.cult-classics.com. His Instagram tag is @never1959, named after the 1959 Edsel he bought after “making some money from my art.”

Elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley, Warner Bros. Records in Burbank has turned its front facade into a Bennington memorial. Linkin Park is signed to the label and has released seven studio albums since 2000’s “Hybrid Theory.”

Chester Bennington
Chester Bennington memorial at Warner Bros. Records in Burbank. (Photo: Jem Aswad)

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