Visual Arts

Say Goodbye to Luster Kaboom's Nerd Monster Mural on Grand Avenue

The same way art lovers see soup cans and think Andy Warhol, Phoenicians see oozing, cartoonish, funhouse-inspired murals and think Luster Kaboom. That’s the name used by Phoenix-born artist David Quan, who has several murals here in his hometown – including an untitled piece he says locals dubbed Nerd Monster.

Quan’s giant nerd monster sports dark chunky eyeglasses and a toothy grin on the west-facing exterior wall of a building at Grand and 15th Avenues. It is among his best-known local works. Painted in 2010, Quan says it was his first foray into mural art. 

Even so, the mural has to go.

It’s painted on bricks that have eroded over time, says Beatrice Moore, the Phoenix artist who owns the building with partner Tony Zahn and commissioned the mural. The wall that has served as a temporary canvas won’t survive unless it’s shored up with wire mesh and plaster that would cover Quan’s art.

“We always knew the bricks were very soft and at risk of getting ruined,” Moore says. “We knew at some point we would have to fix it.”

Now is that time.

It makes sense, Moore says, because they’re currently between tenants. Trunk Space, the music venue located at 1506 Grand Avenue for 12 years, recently moved out, citing reasons including a rent hike and suspicions that the scrappy arts district is going mainstream.

The building has multiple storefronts and is still home to the iconic dive bar Bikini Lounge and the newer art and music venue Sound & Color. Moore says they're close to securing a new tenant in the former Trunk Space location, and she wants to be sure the west-facing wall gets repaired before they move in.

Fortunately, Moore says, the wall's new sanded-plaster surface will make for a much better canvas. And another mural, painted by Quan or another artist, is entirely possible down the road. 

Quan says Moore sent him a “nice, long note” about needing to fix the wall on Tuesday, June 14. That same day, she posted the news on her Facebook page – letting people know they’d have to repair the wall Thursday, June 16. But Quan seems to be taking it all in stride.

“It’s sad,” Quan says. “But whatever.”

He’s got other things on his mind, after moving back from Brooklyn to his small house just off the Grand Avenue beaten path. Quan moved from Phoenix to New York in 2012, but decided last month to make a permanent return after realizing he was one year into a Phoenix visit undertaken in May of 2015.

Nowadays, Quan is busy fixing up his own floors and ceilings, and thinking about rebuilding his garage so he can use it as an art studio. He’s been painting private commissions in living rooms and backyards, and talking with a Roosevelt Row music venue called The Nash about a possible mural on their building. 

Those lamenting the loss of Quan’s beloved nerd monster can take solace in the artist’s other works – including nearby murals at Citywide Studios and La Melgosa, which were also commissioned by Moore. The former looks like something straight out of Little Shop of Horrors, the musical about a bloodthirsty botanical.

Then there’s Quan’s iconic blue ooze painted on The Chocolate Factory, a studio and exhibition space for artist Hector Ruiz, who commissioned the work. Painted in 2011, it borders a small piece by international artist El Mac, who lives in Los Angeles but grew up in Phoenix. Quan's design covers earlier work by Lalo Cota and other artists well known on the local mural scene. That's just the nature of the beast. 

“It’s a super bummer,” Quan says of losing the nerd monster. “But everything changes.”

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble