A mural for Britney Spears' interactive pop-up experience, "The Zone," Rob Prior (inset)
Artist Rob Prior talks to The Hollywood Reporter about painting Spears' image across the face of a Mid City building that will soon house The Zone, an interactive pop-up experience meant to celebrate the superstar's enduring legacy.
Britney Spears' decades-long career has played out like an elaborate art project, one full of distinctive eras accompanied by iconic music videos, dance moves and tantalizing imagery. Since her explosive 1998 debut, the superstar has presented herself as a prism reflecting varying identities — so it only makes sense that her colorful journey from sweet-but-seductive schoolgirl to pioneering Las Vegas headliner has been honored in the form of a giant mural in Los Angeles.
Rob Prior is the artist behind the larger-than-life piece, which is plastered across the face of a Mid City building adjacent to The Grove that will soon house The Zone, an interactive pop-up experience meant to celebrate Spears' contributions to pop music and her enduring legacy. Before finishing the mural this week, Prior chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about lauding the entertainer with his brush strokes, while acknowledging the "pressure" that fueled his desire to please her tirelessly devoted fan base.
"I wanted to do something based around the iconic music and image of Britney," Prior said of the mural, which took nearly two weeks to complete and features a portrait of Spears from the promo shoot for her groundbreaking Piece of Me residency and subsequent world tour, along with a lifelike re-creation of her stirring strut with a snake to "I'm a Slave 4 U" at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards.
"I wanted to make sure that Britney was represented in a really beautiful way," he continued. "So, the best thing is to do a nice 20-foot portrait and then show her on stage. With this mural, you've got the essence of Britney and the iconic look of who she is as a performer."
But with so many memorable photo shoots, tours, videos and awards show performances under Spears' belt, why did Prior decide on these two vignettes specifically?
"The way that Britney has her hand and her hair covering her face in the portrait, it's very sensual. It's classic Britney. And her eyes in that particular portrait stand out because there is so much emotion in them," he said, adding that Spears' management gave him "free rein, pretty much" during the design process. "And then with the performance, I wanted to get Britney with a prop of some sort and that python is arguably her most iconic prop of all."
Though he is confident in his final selections, Prior admits that he was once tempted to make the cover of Spears' record-shattering first album, …Baby One More Time, the cynosure of his mural. "I almost did that, but everybody would have expected that," he said, explaining that he didn’t want to solely rely on nostalgia by painting a teenage Spears, clad in a miniskirt and platform wedges, kneeling before a bubblegum-hued backdrop. "But I made sure to honor that era in Britney's career by incorporating the flowers from the Baby album artwork and then, of course, the whole thing is pink just like the cover."
Speaking of the color pink, Prior suspects that his mural of Spears will provide the Instagrammable "Pink Wall" at the Paul Smith store on Melrose Avenue with some serious social media competition. "There's a new spot in town now!" the artist said with a laugh. "I definitely took Instagram into consideration while designing this. Parts of this are just a pink wall and other parts you can step in front of a rainbow-colored drip that comes down below Britney. Either way, you're going to have a gorgeous picture experience for social media that will be bar none. I'm expecting people to get a lot of 'likes.'"
Aside from generating double-taps, however, Prior's hope is that his mural will be met with admiration from Spears and her Britney Army, a dedicated legion of followers who have shown fierce support for the singer throughout her triumphs and setbacks, both professional and personal. Other than saluting her as their tanned, toned and blonde colonel, though, the Army consistently deifies Spears, whom they affectionately call "Godney."
"I really hope that Britney is wowed by it and sees that it really is an homage to who she is as an artist," Prior said of the Grammy winner. "With the fans, there is pressure to do the absolute best job possible, too. It's a tribute to her legendary life and the fans are part of that. I know how much she means to them. They practically worship her, and they're part of her lifelong legacy that will go on long after we're all gone."
Prior — known for painting with both hands, often with his eyes closed, and drawing large crowds for live exhibitions — told THR that his project for Spears is not only his first mural, but his biggest and, as he said, "most pop princess-y," art piece to date. An established illustrator and burgeoning film director, Prior has also created storyboards for popular video games and painted live during performances with considerably grittier musicians than Spears, such as Tech N9ne and Linkin Park.
"If you explore my art, it's a little crazy that I'm painting butterflies and flowers for Britney, but we've got to broaden our horizons, man!" Prior said. "Rob Prior and Britney Spears are not necessarily synonymous in how they're seen by their fans. It's definitely a departure for me. But it's probably one of the most meaningful projects I've ever done. Compared to everything I've done over the last 30 years, this is up there for me because of its size and its potential impact with a fan base who is so wonderfully passionate. Other than maybe the birth of my twin girls and the marriage to my wife, this might be my proudest moment."
Concluded Prior, "I went from never doing a mural before to wanting to do way more of them. At first, I thought I was just going to do this one and be done but now, in the words of Britney, I'm like, 'Gimme more!'"
The Zone — named after Spears' fourth studio album, In the Zone, and located in L.A. at 6310 W 3rd St. on the corner of Fairfax — is set to open to the public in February, with hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will continue through April. The one-of-a-kind exhibit includes 10 rooms inspired by the pop star's music video library, complete with user-controlled activations and plenty of photo ops. Part retail shop, The Zone will also sell rare merchandise from Spears' past tours and introduce five new collections exclusive to the exhibit. Tickets are now on sale.