What Does it Mean to be MR.LA?

Guerin Swing tells the tale of how he became known as MR.LA, an internationally acclaimed artist, and founder of Swing Street Gallery.
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Guerin Swing has left an undeniable imprint on what it means to be an L.A. artist, so much so that his fine artwork is displayed under his pseudonym, MR.LA. From public installations, international exhibitions, and countless private commissions by the rich and famous around the world, Swing has spent the past decades cementing a new visual vocabulary that radiates the Los Angeles spirit. 

Now, as co-founder of Swing Street Gallery in Los Angeles’s Gallery Row, he is sharing his space and insight with his contemporaries and emerging artists to reclaim the Los Angeles art scene with an authentic vision. A prolific artist with no signs of slowing down, Swing shares with Tainted Magazine the intricacies of his artistic journey. 

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Making MR.LA

When talking about Swing’s artistic practice, there is no single word to describe it. He is a painter, sculptor, fabricator, designer, and more. Unconfined, he ventures to new mediums, styles, and approaches that allow him to bring his subjects new life. It is a practice that has developed from the street to the gallery over years of hard work, refinement, and experimentation. An amalgamation of passion, pop culture, artistry, and the changing nature of the world around us, his work brings together art, music, film, and fame that encapsulates the evolution of himself as an artist as well as the city of Los Angeles.
TM: You have become known in Los Angeles and the broader art world by your moniker. Can you tell us how you got the name MR.LA?

MR.LA: Well, my name is Guerin and it’s hard to pronounce. It’s like Darren with a G. So my friends call me G. or Swing for as long as I can remember. As a youth 13, summer ‘83, I started getting into writing GRAFFITI. I was bussed to a predominantly all-black school in 6th grade. Everyone had a name. My first name there was when a kid called me G-Rock, a friend called “Wizard” David from rolling 40s Hoover Crips, but I drew FIXX, ZACY. My high school surf  friends called me Guerins Ball Bearings and nicknamed me Geraldo, but I liked EGO. I’ve been writing EGO ever since high school on the RTD, skate pools etc,  but I never got really into doing pieces using EGO. Just tagging it. I was more into painting skulls and waves with spray paint, but never signed it. 
I’ve always signed my name GUERIN when it came to art as an established artist. Showing in 1995, But when I started Showing Street Art in 2012.  I always thought there was a conflict of interest with my art and my company that I named Guerindesign. on the way back from Art Basel , I was talking to Shephard Fairey and I explained my dilemma. He said, “You need to separate church and state.” For months I thought about changing my company name. I was at a gallery, selling a piece of art, and the owner said, “What’s your tag name?” I said, “EGO, but I don’t sign that on my art.” A few days later, I was showing someone one of my Art pieces and I said, “This character’s name depicted in the painting is called Mr. LA.” Someone said, “That’s you!  You are Mr. LA.” It all made sense. 
TM: You have had an extensive career spanning back more than three decades. Can you tell us more about your practice and your style?

MR.LA: I have been practicing art since I was a kid painting.I had one of my oil paintings displayed at the White House in 1979 when I was in the 4th grade. In the ’80s, I was into Mad Magazine and Heavy Metal magazine they were everything, like porn. In 1982 I saw the Heavy Metal animation movie and I was hooked. I wanted to be an animator and was awarded two Student film festival awards that I did as an animation student in junior high. In the early ‘80s I was into Art mags with  Robert Willams’ lowbrow west coast style. Between Surf, Skate, Pop, Pinup Art, and Urban art, like Keith Haring, I think I just mashed up everything into one style over the years practicing art.
TM: As a fourth-generation Angelino, can you share with us how growing up in the 1980s and 1990s influenced your art and how it continues to impact the work you make today?

MR.LA: This experience included taking every art class I could after high school, like photo retouching with an airbrush, and then dropping out of school to go to a commercial art school in 1987, getting my first job, and becoming assistant Art Director for Screamers magazine. I was working on all the up-and-coming bands, logos, and artwork for the LA Sunset Strip mag. including all the playbills for venues like Whiskey, Gazzaris, and the Roxy to name a few. Going back to college, I was sitting in at Otis Parsons, & Pasadena college of design finals, I guess I was an art nerd. Then in 1989, painting Billy Idol’s backdrop for a LA show. Then dropping out of art school because kids were talking about taking their finals on computers.
I worked at nightclubs painting live art and decorating themed Club Nights. In 1991, I started my art company, Trompe l’oeil, still working in the club scene, working with guys like Sk8 for Fresh jive party’s painting pieces and wild murals at Union on Sunset. I was working for celebrities on commission portrait paintings. people like Bobby Brown, Fen to Fem, and Heidi Fleiss eventually working almost exclusively for Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, painting a 20ft x 40ft mural from Hell to Heaven and the infamous leather swing and piano and multiple paintings From 1994 to 1997, I was building my art company. That really put me on the map. I was featured on Oprah, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Geraldo Rivera, and countless times on MTV cribs. By 1998 my company skyrocketed to working with the who’s who of LA. Then by 2000, I was transitioning to 5-star hospitality club restaurants, hotels, and of course celebrity clientele internationally. 
TM: Looking at your portfolio, we can see that your paintings take on a variety of forms; jewelry boxes, surfboards, etc. What inspires you to take your painting practice into new sculptural dimensions?

MR.LA: I have always painted on objects. Skateboards, Guitars for Velvet Revolver and Weezer, Motorcycles, functional art sculptures for Kiss, Steven Tyler, and Slash. Making art for the rich and famous had become as big as my imagination. I have also worked in the entertainment art department for music videos, commercials, and as lead painter on feature films and TV series. I think the scope of my work and size grew with my experience. So it’s only natural to start doing bigger and larger sculpture pieces.
TM: Coming from a lineage of interior designers, how do you view the relationship between the visual arts and the field of interior design, and does this affect your creative process? 

MR.LA: Growing up as a third-generation designer, my parents decorated the famous Jackson compound, Steven Spielberg’s home, and owned a large 25-room interior design showroom. So growing up watching multiple artists and draftsmen in the studio, and being taught as a child how to quickly hand draw renderings, that eventually became a reality. I think it boils down to I see a vision in my head and I can execute it.  Today, it’s my job to make someone else’s vision become a reality. 
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Demolishing the Downtown Art Scene

Swing Street Gallery is exposing the cracks that artists have slipped through as urban, street, and graffiti art has been assimilated into the mainstream galleries of the commercial art world. While the galleries, especially Downtown, have waxed and waned over time, there is still a strong community of artists devoted to sharing their visions, lived experiences, and revolutionary ideas on these art forms, if only they had a place to share them. From the experiences of his career, Swing is showing how the galleries of Los Angeles can be a platform for a grittier and more genuine artistic spirit to reinvigorate this side of the city. 
TM: In addition to your career as an artist you also have taken on the role of gallerist. What prompted you to open Swing Street Gallery and what is its mission?

MR.LA: We opened the gallery originally because of COVID when galleries were closed down then backlogged for over a year. I personally just wanted to show my art in a small intimate space other than my studio. When we found our space on Gallery Row, and it was so large, we knew this had to be a collective of artists. I asked a few of my contemporaries if they were interested in showing. Everyone was excited, not really realizing that we were in the heart of Downtown L.A.  on Gallery Row. There had not been a true gallery in over 10 years and there was an overwhelming love that we received from the LA art community. I soon realized I had an obligation. I guess my mission is to show true art and stay true to the city and the community. It really happened organically.
TM: Los Angeles brings together a diverse variety of art and artists. What void does Swing Street Gallery fill or what unique perspective does it add to the Los Angeles art scene?

MR.LA: To continue, Gallery Row, which used to be part of the L.A. art walk, really lacked true urban contemporary art. I feel there’s a huge void for real  urban art in “Galleries” as a whole.
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The Art of Resilience

For Swing, being a part of the artistic community is more than him hosting an innovative new space for artists to explore their genuine creative voice. Just as Swing persists in his commitment to his authentic self and pursuit of his creative spirit, he wants to share his acquired wisdom with young, emerging, and experimental artists. He wants them to overcome their fears, devote their time, and understand that becoming a celebrated artist doesn’t happen overnight. 
TM: With a prestigious career in such a volatile industry, your success undoubtedly inspires other young artists. For these emerging talents, can you tell us about how you deal with the insecurities that arise as an artist – notions that plague a lot of artists, young and established, like imposter syndrome or artist block?

MR.LA: Personally, for me, I really wasn’t paying attention to the competitive side of the art scene. I’ve always been an artist and wasn’t sizing up others. I have been showing art in galleries since 1994. The Graffiti scene is rough, and I guess I grew up in it, but definitely never considered myself a graffiti artist. But since I deal with quite a lot of artists and I’ve employed over 200 in my career, I am very open to helping out, trying to communicate, and spending a lot of my time giving back and trying to point artists in the right direction. Unfortunately, I think a lot of artists are looking for a quick fix. No matter which way you slice it, it’s time. Keep your head down and “practice art”.
TM: Looking to the future, what new trajectories in art or interior design are you most excited about or see the most potential in?

MR.LA: I’m very excited for the future. I see very clearly where I need to go. I’m a force and I haven’t touched the surface. I’m planning on doing a large solo show before summer, and focusing on sharing it with other countries.
Guerin Swing is truly MR.LA. Not only is it his bright colors or plays on the spectacle of popular culture, but his constant search for new horizons. Chasing dreams and overcoming the odds, his work from the street to the white walls of the gallery embodies what it means to be from Los Angeles.
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q & a

Guerin "Mr. L.a. Swing

What Does it Mean to be MR.LA?


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Photograph by Castro Frank
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