Arguably the most jaw-dropping feat of guerrilla street art in the Los Angeles area appeared 50 years ago on Saturday. The Pink Lady of Malibu Canyon greeted drivers approaching the coastal entrance to the canyon's tunnel on the morning of October 29, 1966. No one knew how the painting of a 60-foot-tall, happily nude, bright pink female could have been painted overnight on the cliff above the highway, but there she was. The Pink Lady became a sensation, attracting fans and gawkers who jammed up the canyon and derided attempts by the county to wash her away. It took about a week and several coats of paint to finally cover up the Pink Lady, but for years — decades really — she still peeked through the whitewash in the right light.
The Pink Lady of Malibu Canyon really became an Angeleno legend because of who created her. At the peak of the amazed curiosity, the artist revealed herself. Lynne Seemayer was a 31-year-old paralegal in Northridge who had been plotting her art work to beautify the canyon rock face for months. She left her young children at home on the night of Oct. 28 and dangled on ropes above the tunnel for hours, painting the Pink Lady by herself. After she came forward, the authorities tried to hit her with a bill for the cleanup. She got marriage proposals — and threats. Once the ruckus settled, she settled into a long career as an artist here.
Seemayer used to tell her story every now and then; I haven't seen anything new from her for awhile now. (See the treatment from my 2001 book below.) She was not recognized when MOCA mounted its big appreciation of LA street art a few years ago, a true omission. Her son Stephen Seemayer grew up to be an artist himself, and the filmmaker (with wife Pam Wilson) behind "Young Turks," the documentary about pre-Arts District downtown artists. I believe they are working now on a film about the old railroad porter's hotel that was in the building that later housed Al's Bar and now is shared by The Pie Hole. Wilson posted on Facebook this weekend for the 50th anniversary of the Pink Lady:
Lynne Seemayer was a 31-year-old single mother of two who worked as a paralegal and had a budding art career when she was inspired to paint the sheer cliff face above the Malibu Canyon Road tunnel on Halloween weekend 1966.
Not being a mountain climber didn’t deter the San Fernando Valley woman, who used a gigantic stencil that she rolled from the top of the cliff and then rappelled down to paint what has come to be known as the Pink Lady of Malibu.
The Pink Lady was an instant worldwide sensation, appearing in Life magazine and on newspaper covers around the globe. In 1967, author Bill Adler wrote in his book “Graffiti”:
“Artist Lynne Seemayer got fed up with looking at the drab and ugly entrance to this tunnel near Malibu Beach, California. For months she carefully planned her caper. Finally, one dark night she descended the cliff by rope and tackle and painted this magnificent nude, a truly staggering feat (or graffeat). Unfortunately, local police failed to appreciate the esthetic value of the nude. Deeming it a traffic hazard, they “denuded” the cliff with fourteen gallons of brown paint. But this scandalous attempt to strike a blow at graffiti backfired, because the marvelous “Martyr of Malibu” still lives on in memory as an inspiration to valiant graffitists everywhere.”
The great muralist Kent Twitchell has called Seemayer the “godmother of Los Angeles street art.”
Wilson says that Seemayer Studios has a limited number of Pink Lady commemorative T-shirts available. She also put a short appreciation on YouTube a few years ago.
Here's the section from my 2001 book, "The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb."
Lynne Seemayer was a 31 year old Northridge artist and mother of two whose day job as a legal secretary was not her true calling. She drove Malibu Canyon regularly between the Valley and the beach, and in 1966 she had had enough of the graffiti marring the rocks above the canyon's landmark tunnel. On nights when the moon was bright, she lowered herself with ropes until she hung in front of a large section of rock. Then she quietly went to work. Several months later, after a marathon eleven-hour session, she was done.
On October 29, the sun rose on a traffic stopper: a 60 foot high, shocking pink and joyfully naked female, grasping a handful of flowers as she cavorted on the rock above the tunnel. Seemingly appearing overnight, the black haired, doe eyed Pink Lady of Malibu Canyon became a sensation. "She wasn't there when I came through here two days ago,'' deputy sheriff William A. Sheaffer puzzled.
Crowds gathered to gawk and to ponder who could have created the apparition. Most assumed the artist was a man—or men, given the precipitous site. County officials declared the Pink Lady a traffic hazard and tried to erase her, but this proved difficult. High-pressure water hoses only made her gleam more brightly. Paint remover didn't work. Meanwhile, the crowds grew more protective. Admirers signed petitions that called efforts to erase the Pink Lady "prudish, inartistic, inhuman and apathetic.''
After several days of mystery, Seemayer came forward. She received hate mail, marriage proposals and offers to join nudist groups, and finally she lost her job. People read all kinds of meaning into the Pink Lady, but Seemayer explained, "I did it simply as an art piece, and that was all.''
Fourteen gallons of drab gray paint finally obliterated the sensation, although for years afterward a faint outline of the nude form could be glimpsed in the right light over the coastal side of the tunnel.