Inspired by a temporary art installation that I had seen this Spring in an abandoned warehouse in Lincoln Heights (just east of LA’s Chinatown), I decided the time had come to feature this show along with some LA art that I had photographed in previous visits. I begin with four public murals from downtown and four more works that caught my fancy from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Following these will be that inspiring Lincoln Heights installation, titled The 14th Factory. Then I will show selections from “the longest mural in the world,” which is to be found in the San Fernando Valley: The History of California, more commonly known as The Great Wall of Los Angeles. I end this post with a few more public murals from Little Armenia and the Arts District, and, finally, five images taken in the home and studio of an interesting young painter named Gonzalo Escobar.
Four Public Murals
Although the mural names many other jazz legends, the eleven large portraits it depicts are, from left to right: Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Shelly Manne, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. Duke fills up the right foreground, but Nat King Cole dominates the center. Wyatt’s decision to give Cole compositional prominence can be justified by the fact that Cole sold over fifteen million records for Capitol in the post-war years, and the building–designed by Welton Becket Associates–was called “the house that Nat built” when it opened in April of 1956.
Wyatt’s original painted mural was intended to last for only five years, but it quickly became an LA landmark and then began to weather and fade. It has been restored, with the help of photos of the original, in 12-inch, glazed ceramic tiles, so its vivid colors will now last for many decades.
I spent much too much time trying to find information on this mural and its artist with no luck. I gave up. It appears to focus on the early history of jazz with particular reference to New Orleans and New York City.
This mural, measuring 70′ x 106′, shows an elephant holding a flower in its trunk. Behind it is a dove in flight. Emanating from behind the flower, the sun’s rays radiate across the entire wall surface. As one of the most intelligent animals, revered for its wisdom, the elephant would seem a most appropriate image to be associated with a library, and certainly the dove is the traditional symbol for peace. In Shepard Fairey’s own words, ” I wanted the work to be appropriate for the philosophy of the city: peace, freedom, creativity, tolerance.”
Facing each other today across the 101 Freeway, these two murals together were known as the Seventh Street Altarpiece when originally painted at the 7th Street Exit of the 110 Freeway. They were part of ten murals, painted by ten artists on the 110 and the 101 Freeways. The murals were intended to serve as a visual welcome to the 1984 Summer Olympics. Vandals, nature, time and highway construction damaged all of these “Olympic Freeway Murals” and completely destroyed three. But in 2012 the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles began restoration of the remaining seven.
Twitchell’s murals represent two contemporary LA artists whose work he particularly respects: Lita Albuquerque and Jim Morphesis. He sees their open hands as a representation of peace, and their position facing each other as creating “a kind of gateway through which the traveler to LA must drive.”
The original ten mural artists were Glenna Avila, Judy Baca, Alonzo Davis, Willie Herrón III, Frank Romero, Terry Schoonhoven, Roderick Sykes, Kent Twitchell, John Wehrle, and Richard Wyatt. One of them, Alonzo Davis, was the person who convinced the director of the Olympics Arts Festival (Robert Fitzpatrick) of the value and relevance of this project to the city of Los Angeles and for the Olympics. Placing the murals on the freeways, however, was a radical gesture; but after some discussion among the artists, it became clear that the freeway was the “connective tissue of Los Angeles–and therefore the perfect canvas.” This already was clear to a few of the city’s more perceptive outsiders: Richard Austin Smith had observed twenty years earlier that “the essence of Los Angeles…is Freedom of movement,” and Reyner Banham followed this by calling the freeway the most essential of LA’s four “ecologies,” its “Autopia” and its one, “single comprehensible place [offering] a coherent state of mind.”
These ten sections of the Berlin wall are installed directly across from LACMA. They actually belong to the Wende Museum, located in Culver City, a museum which focuses on the Cold War in Eastern Europe. To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Wende Museum commissioned several artists to paint sections of the wall, so transforming these segments of the Berlin wall into fresh “canvas” for selected, contemporary, 21st century artists. Among the selected artists are Thierry Noir, Kent Twitchell, Farrah Karapetian, and Marie Astrid Gonzales. Because their work ranges from representational to expressionistic to abstract, when combined into one piece, as displayed here, it offers a powerful statement about (artistic) freedom overcoming (political) oppression.
LACMA presented the first major retrospective in over fifty years of the work of László Moholy-Nagy this year, titled Moholy-Nagy: Future Present. Among all of the major avant-garde artists of the early 20th-Century, only Moholy-Nagy anticipated and put into practice something like the degree to which art today can be made of almost any material and can extend far beyond traditional modes of expression. Seen inside of this purplish circle is his Light Prop of 1930, an electrically-powered, kinetic sculpture whose perforated discs and screens slowly revolve and cast light onto the rear wall of its enclosure. Moholy envisioned it as creating an “architecture of light” and, if removed from its containing box, it could enliven an entire room–walls and ceilings–and become sculpture-as-theater.
LACMA displayed Light Prop not as a separate piece of sculpture in one of its galleries, but in a special room–also designed by Moholy in 1930 and called Room of the Present. The room was filled with his sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, architecture and what we would today call industrial designs. Even as the room contained many works of “art,” the room itself became a work of art–a highly radical idea for 1930.
As LACMA banned any photography inside of Room of the Present, I was able only to sneak this clandestine shot with my small camera. However, this YouTube [1:46] shows the movement (but no light effects) of Light Prop for an Electric Stage and this second YouTube [5:39] shows it playing one of Moholy’s experimental films, Light Play: Black-White-Grey.
I’ve always had a fondness for Kurt Schwitters and his Dada-inspired collages, or merzbilder, as he termed them. A funnel, three broken, spoked wheels, a crushed toy train, some sticks, pieces of cardboard, bits of paper combine with paint to create this piece (40″x 33″) with the wonderfully perverse title, Construction for Noble Ladies. Need I say more?
Another temporary exhibit at LACMA this year was Abdulnasser Gharem: Pause. The artist, a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Arabian army, made a series of large paintings and sculptures, all embodying veiled socio-political criticism of life in Saudi Arabia. Pause, the exhibit title, refers to the moment in which Gharem watched the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on television. In an interview with Deborah Vankin of the Los Angeles Times, Gharem said that two of the 9/11 high-jackers were high school friends: “We grew up in…the same environment…but we’d taken very different paths….I was shocked; how could this be? It was like someone stopped the world for a while. Everything paused.”
Talking to Ben Hubbard of the New York Times last year, Gharem asserted that his “role as an artist [is] to bring out the option that the politician can’t say and that the religious man can’t say. You bring out the solutions that people can’t say.” And so, metaphor plays an essential role for him. Camouflage may well refer to “war-hungry governments, arms deals and sectarianism,” but the messages are veiled. The stem of an orange daisy may also be the cannon barrel of an army tank, but it grows within the interior of an Iranian mosque. The tank, and its threat of aggression and war, is camouflaged by the trappings of tradition; like traditional Islamic art, the entire painting is covered with geometric and floral motifs. However, as the detail above reveals, the entire painting has a raised, embossed surface. That surface is made by cutting the letters off of governmental stamps and, with tweezers, adhering them to the canvas to form new words in English and Arabic–words that question the traditional culture. Of course, these embossed statements are reversed and must be read backwards, and so the message is again camouflaged and made a bit less accessible.
The 14th Factory
For six hours/day over two weeks, Movana Chen took up residence at the far end of an extensive space titled Garlands (The New World), an undulating space of earth, grass and poppy flowers (at least until, being inside, the flowers withered and died). Here she knitted shredded paper from books and magazines relating to the history of the Thirteen Factories of Canton. Viewers were invited to sit, knit and converse with her. She described the process as “a journey of weaving together people’s stories, cultures and history…opening up a two-way communication across time…[in which] everything is connected.”
Chen has been knitting “magazine clothes” ever since 2004, all of which are made from the strands of shredded books and magazines. She calls her work KNITerature.
My first photograph, I hope, captures something of the gorgeous and ever-expanding tapestry of her work.
Simon Birch, the creator of the 14th Factory exhibition, is a British artist and permanent resident of Hong Kong. The title of the exhibit builds on a historical reference to 18th-Century Canton (today’s Guangzhou). There, the Qing Emperor only allowed foreigners to establish trading bases in one area of Canton, a district known as the Thirteen Factories. In Birch’s assessment, the Thirteen Factories are emblematic of competitive strife among the various nation states vying (back then) for the opening of trade with China. Ideally, the 14th Factory, as Birch saw it, would become a place where art (made by an international group of artists) would blend to overcome nationalistic and individual competition.
In maintaining this non-competitive ideal, none of the rooms nor the art exhibited in them provided any reference to the names of the artists responsible for their creation. The 14th Factory installation occupies fourteen interlinked spaces in an abandoned industrial warehouse east of downtown LA. The art it presents ranges from painting to sculpture to installations to video to performance. I must admit to usually disliking video art (at least its first few decades, with the exception of the videos of Bill Viola). However, I found every example of video art in this exhibition absolutely mesmerizing. I could have watched any one for hours. Bravo!
The fourteen rooms of this exhibit have a thematic connection, one which alludes to a future world which will follow the inevitable collapse of what Birch refers to as the “relentless, Western, capitalist, democratic ideology that’s clearly not working….[and which has led to] worldwide economic meltdown, rising inequality, environmental havoc, and fundamental rupture of the relationship between citizens and institutions.” The rooms can be read as chapters of a narrative which leads from destruction, to a new world, to battles, and eventually to rewards and transformations.
The Meteor consist of jagged plywood and industrial foam pieces painted black. It fills the first room as if a giant meteor had impacted this, or some new, world. The room is darkened, forcing the visitor to carefully traverse its outer edges before finally encountering a bright opening into its core.
The visitor, peering through that bright opening, is greeted by this elegant room.
Shoeless (for obvious functional reasons) the visitor is allowed into this core, The Barmecide Feast. Being shoeless not only serves to keep this core pristine; it also symbolizes this Inner Cave as sacred space. The designers of The Meteor and its Inner Cave are the Hong Kong based architects, KplusK associates. The title, Barmecide Feast, refers to a story in the Arabian Nights in which dinner guests of the Sultan must pretend to enjoy a feast in which no real food has been served.
Viewers, however, are more likely to recognize this space from a very different tale, as it is a precise replica of the final set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: the room which serves as the containment suite for an aging David Bowman. In a way, the dark outside (The Meteor) posits a collapsed civilization, whereas its interior (The Barmecide Feast) offers the possibility of a new chapter.
The same room in which Simon Birch was pictured above contained several large paintings (which turned out to be his). This was the only room that appeared like a traditional gallery space. I question whether these paintings would accord with the larger theme of the show were it not for their titles referencing avatars and demons. In fact, when Birch painted the above work four years ago, he had then titled it Coachwhip Supercharger (see Saatchi Art link).
Robert Peckham’s review of The 14th Factory exhibit (which I recommend as possibly the most knowledgeable and one which includes a good picture of every room) offers deeper insight into Avatars/Demons. It’s the title of a book by Derek Jarman (1978) documenting British punk culture. Peckham calls this room a portrait hall. The avatars and demons it pictures are rock musicians, those “disruptors of our youth.” Given this insight, I wonder if Birch’s original title for the above painting conflated the names of two American rock bands: Coachwhips and Supercharger?
In an outdoor courtyard, Birch constructed a pool, arranged airplane tails in it that were salvaged from a dump in the Mojave Desert, and filled the pool with black water. The taller of these tails, emerging from this darkened pool like silent sentinels from another age, bring to mind a much earlier reference in 2001: A Space Odyssey–that mysterious monolith which first appears to early hominids. Its appearance is associated with the beginnings of technology in the early Paleolithic Era, and the flinging of the new tool–a large animal femur–into the air becomes Kubrick’s transition from early man to the world of space travel. See either this extended YouTube clip, 9:33, if you don’t recall the movie scene, or this shorter YouTube clip, 2:21.
The pool’s dimensions, we are told, are identical to those of the monolith in Kubrick’s film. Yet, even without any association with Kubrick, Clear Air Turbulence retains its fascination as an art installation. Changing light and wind currents continually activate the work by altering the reflections in the darkened pool. Robert Peckham refers to the tail sections as “like dinosaur bones, or strange memorial stelae.” I have no doubt that Moholy-Nagy and Kurt Schwitters would have understood this as a powerful and valid form of art.
This was one of those mesmerizing videos that I could have watched for hours. Six large screens showed a video made by the Hong Kong filmmaker/photographer, Wing Shya, working with Simon Birch and choreograoher Hao Yibo. In it, 300 workers from Beijing are shown fighting, an endless loop in slow motion. No one dies or goes down for the count. A certain gentleness tempers its thoughtless brutality. Its title is derived from a Marvel Comics book about an people who created a new race on earth by using genetic splicing on early Cro-Magnons. This new race became a society of its own known as the Inhumans.
Another of the mesmerizing videos is this one, in which Simon Birch hired a stunt driver to crash his Ferrari 308 Mondial. Although it took a mere seven seconds for the car to be destroyed, the multiple cameras and the editing have resulted in another continuously looped film that I would happily watch for hours. It is as if Birch and Eric Hu (the producer of this film) have created a 21st-Century version of what Edmund Burke had called the Sublime, an aesthetic which provides pleasure through horror, awe and a tapping into a more emotional part of the viewer’s brain, an aesthetic quite different from what he and his 18th-Century colleagues understood as the Beautiful.
Birch filmed this event at night under Hong Kong’s Tsing-ma Bridge, a vast no-man’s land. Too low and wide to ever roll over on its own, the Ferrari was rigged to flip. As the stunt driver accelerated into the designated, lit area at 100 mph, he activated a series of air compressors which shot steel rods into the ground. The car then catapulted into the air, flipped and rolled. This Daily Mail article by Darren Boyle provides the best coverage about The Inevitable and also contains a video of the crash, 1:58.
After the crash, Birch gathered the shards of the wreckage and cut up the rest of the Ferrari. He exhibited these salvaged pieces on a long table in an adjacent room. Mounted on the walls of that room were close-up photographs of those pieces. These photographs could easily be mistaken for large, abstract paintings. In a sense, to return to Edmund Burke’s aesthetic concepts, this room is where the Sublime act of destruction, seen earlier and captured in film, has been transformed (or distilled) into the Beautiful and shown in a more traditional way.
The title, The Inevitable (The Final Challenge: Death and Rebirth), also connects to Simon Birch’s personal life. At the age of 33, he had been diagnosed with NK/T-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was given little chance of survival, yet managed to beat the disease with a combination of chemo, radiation, diet and alternative Eastern therapies. With this experience, his prized possession became irrelevant, gratuitous. By turning its destruction into a work of art, he has made his Ferrari “much nicer now..it suddenly becomes more valuable because it is shared….everyone…can enjoy the beauty in the destruction.”
The History of California (The Great Wall)
In 1915, the California State Legislature adopted the Los Angeles County Flood Control Act for the purpose of preventing flood destruction, conserving water and enhancing recreation. The resulting infrastructure that it created now serves over 2,700 square miles of greater LA. Here we are looking at a small part of its 483 miles of open channel; this section collects excess flood water and enables it to seep back into the groundwater aquifer of the San Fernando Valley Basin.
The walls of all the channels are thirteen feet high, and it is from this point–pictured above–that the History of California murals begin.
Here is where the Great Wall of Los Angeles began in 1976. Latina artist, Judy Baca, initiated and led this project after co-founding (earlier the same year) the Social & Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). The Center’s purpose was the promotion of community-based public arts projects. With the support of the federally-funded Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), Baca, nine other artists, five historians and eighty teenagers (recommended through the criminal justice department) began work on the first 1,000 feet of the wall. This first section encompassed thirty-five segments from Pre-Historic California: 20,000 BC to an initial section on World War I.
The following photographs illustrate some of this first section as well as sections painted in subsequent years. The project was completed in 1984, having been continued in the summers of 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1983. The most complete listing of this work can be found in this Registration Form of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Chumash (a name meaning bead maker or seashell people) lived along the southern California coast for at least 13,000 years, beginning near Santa Barbara. They were both hunter-gatherers and adept sailors.
The Portolá Expedition (1769-1770) marks the first European entry into and exploration of California. A handful of earlier expeditions preceded it, reaching back as early as 1542, but did not land and occupy territory. The Expedition was named for Gaspar Portolá i Rovira, who became the first governor of Alta California.
Also of Spanish origin is the Legend of Califa (Califia or Calafia). Written around 1500, it conjures up a black warrior queen who lived on the mythical island of California. In modern times, Califa would be revived as an embodiment of the spirit of California.
Junípero Serra y Ferrer was a Franciscan priest who founded the first Spanish Franciscan missions from San Diego to San Francisco, coevally with the Portolá Expedition. In his zeal to convert the native tribes to Christianity, Serra also presided over their significant mistreatment, making him a rather controversial figure.
Los Angeles was founded in 1781 as a secular settlement, started by forty-four settlers (Pobladores) selected by the Governor. Of the 44, 26 had African ancestry, 16 were either Indian or mestizo, and only 2 were white.
William A Leidesdorf, chronologically the eldest of these three, was a West Indian immigrant with African Cuban, Danish and Jewish ancestry. Migrating to California in 1841, he became a Mexican citizen in 1844 and served as the City Treasurer of San Francisco, and operated the first steamboat in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River.
Mifflin W. Gibbs came to San Francisco in 1850, was, among many other things, a publisher of the State’s only African-American newspaper, Alta California, and was a major activist in opposition to the many discriminatory laws passed against blacks by the State Legislature after 1858.
Mary Ellen Plesant was a light-skinned African-American and abolitionist who worked on the Underground Railroad, later fought discriminatory abuses against African-Americans in California and, because of her work, more than a century later she would be called “The Mother of Human Rights in California.”
The California Missions introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits in the mid-18th-Century, but nearly a century passed before the first commercial orchard was planted (1841) near what is now the center of Los Angeles. The citrus industry boom began in earnest in 1870 and grew rapidly with the completion of the transcontinental railroads. The “Land Boom” was part of this same expansion, particularly after 1885, when the Santa Fe railroad entered to become a competitor with the Southern Pacific railway.
The Red Car referred to the Pacific Electric mass transit system of electric-powered streetcars. For a period of sixty years (1901-1961), it connected Los Angeles–city and county– with cities in Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura and Riverside counties. By the 1920s, it had become the largest electrical railway system in the world. The system was privately owned and geared to serve its owner’s more narrow economic interests. It eventually would succumb to unregulated suburban sprawl, the private automobile, and the expansion of freeways.
In response to the economic downturn of the Great Depression, the United States government deported over 500,000 Mexican Americans between 1929-1936. Scholars even say that the numbers deported in this “Mexican Repatriation” may have reached two-million and, as a process, it meets the standards for ethnic cleansing. 60% of those deported were US-born citizens.
In an egregious disregard for civil liberties, 120,000 Japanese Americans (mostly living in the West Coast) were incarcerated in one of ten camps. Manzanar, an abandoned town 230 miles north of Los Angeles, is the best known of these and now is a historic site, preserving our shameful legacy. This relocation took place two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, enacting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The arid landscape pictured in the mural very likely builds on the fact that Los Angeles had bought the water rights to this entire area.
Three African Americans who served their country in the 1940s during World War II are celebrated in this wall section. Charles R. Drew was a surgeon and medical researcher who did essential work on blood transfusions, blood storage, and the development of large-scale blood banks. He also fought the un-scientific policy, maintained by the American Red Cross until 1950, in which blood donation was segregated and kept separated.
Mrs. Laws, pictured at the front of a line of sign-holding protesters, is most likely Texanna Laws who, with her husband Henry fought restrictive housing covenants in Watts and South Central LA in 1944. These covenants, written into housing deeds, restricted the buying or re-selling of houses solely to “Caucasians.” Henry Laws was quoted as saying: “The only way they will ever get me out of this house is to shoot me with a Gatling gun and throw my dead body on the other lot.” In 1948, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that such restrictive deed covenants were unenforceable.
David Gonzales, born in Pacoima, CA in 1923, was a soldier in the U. S. Army (PFC). He was killed on the Philippine Island of Luzon in 1945, while rescuing fellow soldiers. He was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor for his selfless acts of bravery.
Guatemalan Luisa Moreno was a social activist and leader in the labor movement. She was active in Florida, Texas, Los Angeles and San Diego, unionizing workers, leading strikes and writing pamphlets. In 1939, she was one of the organizers of the California-based Spanish-Speaking People’s Congress, giving voice to immigrants and the working classes.
The Bracero Program supported manual laborers, as its name suggests. It was initiated in August of 1942 when the U. S. Government signed an agreement with Mexico. Its purpose was to alleviate a shortage of labor in agriculture, in return for which the program guaranteed decent living conditions and a minimum wage. The program ended in 1964. Unfortunately, America did not meet its agreement to return 10% mandatory pay deductions once the braceros returned to Mexico; it is estimated that the ex-braceros are owed more than $500 million.
The break that we see here on the left (in grey) indicates the start of a new section and new season of work. Section 5, painted in 1983, begins with Rosie the Riveter, clinging to the mural’s edge as she is being sucked into a black-and-white TV set. Willy-nilly, she must relinquish her hammer and boots, become domesticated, and enter suburban life.
Screenwriters, directors and other members of the Hollywood entertainment industry became targets of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt for Communist sympathizers, starting in 1947. Here we see McCarthy tossing these people into a wastebasket, along with a typewriter and film camera, as accusers “finger” them. So begins the unseemly spectacle of the Hollywood Blacklist.
Chavez Ravine, home for the Mexican-American communities of La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop, is located north of downtown LA. As a poor neighborhood, it became ripe for “urban renewal” redevelopment plans in the later 1940s, along with the promise of new public housing to replace the “blighted” dwellings. Many residents were relocated, some land was taken by eminent domain, but–with shifting political will–the public housing was never approved. A ten-year “Battle of Chavez Ravine” ensued between the remaining residents and the developers/city of LA.
The results were predictable, as the mural clearly shows. We see the Freeway System, octopus-like, separating a family and crushing the remaining homes; we see a man in uniform forcibly removing a woman who had refused to leave; and we see Dodger Stadium settling into the Ravine, as if it were some alien spaceship.
Homosexual men and lesbian women still had to keep their sexual preferences and inclinations secret in the 1950s-1960s. The Mattachine Society was among the first gay rights organizations in the United States. It was founded in 1950 in Los Angeles by Harry Hay and friends to protect gay men and improve their rights. “The Call” was a document of the group’s organizing principles. The word, “Mattachine,” referred to a medieval French society of masked men who would criticize their ruling monarchy.
The Daughters of Bilitis (aka: DOB–like but so different from DAR) was the “first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States.” The DOB was formed in 1955 in San Francisco. Its name, “Bilitis,” refers to a fictional, lesbian contemporary of Sappho, invented by the French poet, Pierre Louÿs in a literary work of 1894. One could say that these two organizations expanded the “closet,” making it just a bit more supportive and safer.
Public Murals: Little Armenia and the Arts District
This elegant, pensive three-quarter view portrait depicts La Reina de Thai Town against a halo outlined in Gothic script enclosing a colorful pattern of spirals, whorls and interlace. The figure is taken from a photo of a friend of the artists; both live in Los Angeles. El Mac (Miles MacGregor) focuses on the representational aspects of their collaborations and so was responsible for the the portrait bust. Retna (Marquis Lewis) is drawn to abstract, typographical mark-making derived from such broad historical sources as hieroglyphics, Arabic script, medieval manuscript illumination and more.
Directly across Hollywood Boulevard from La Reina… is this mural. It is the product of four artists who work collaboratively as pairs. Dabs & Myla are a husband and wife team from Melbourne, Australia. Since 2009, they have lived in Los Angeles. Their work consists of the more colorful sections and the recognizably Disney-like or comic book-like forms. How & Nosm (Raoul & Davide Perré) are identical twins, born in San Sebastian, Spain, brought up in Düsseldorf, Germany, and now living in New York since 1999. They are known for working in a restricted palette of red, black and white and their work is less clearly representational. The hands of all four artists intertwine across the entire length of this mural, as I think we can see. What would have been most instructive is the have a video of the process to see who started where and who painted over whom?
Here is a YouTube, 3:36, in which Dabs & Myla (or DabsMyla, as they reject any efforts to be individually credited) talk about their collaborative process. Here is a YouTube interview, 11:21, done by the Bronx artists, Tats Cru, in which How & Nosm discuss aspects of their art and life.
Upon entering the Arts District at Alameda Street, we see these rather insignificant murals, insignificant at least in terms of scale. Still, their references are odes to LA, the city of angels. Visitors here would have their photos taken, standing in front of the angel, so acquiring temporary wings. On the opposite side, the twerking man dances not only for Los Angeles, but also for Angel City Beer. This building is the home of Angel City Brewery. It was built in 1913 as the West Coast offices of John A. Roebling’s Sons, a name we all know at least from that of the designer and builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. This company would later supply the cables for the Golden Gate Bridge, the electrical power lines of Los Angeles, and the springy wire that made the Slinky toy.
By now, I suspect, these images have disappeared, and this wall has been re-tagged on a much grander scale.
Thomas Burns painted Mona Lisa with her slightly misaligned eyes for a soft drink commercial shoot. Later, someone added a mustache and other writers have over-tagged her, as can be seen in the photographic detail below.
Damon Martin unveiled this mural of an elephant family in June of 2012 at a “Celebration of Elephants” event sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The jagged background shapes are derived from his interpretation of what was called “dazzle painting”–a camouflage technique developed in Britain during WWI to render navy ships difficult to see on the ocean. Martin is committed to combatting elephant poaching and he is particularly distressed “that the United States is still the number two consumer of ivory in the world.”
The large sculpture seen behind the dog was designed by architect Lebbeus Woods, but not assembled and placed here until the year after he died. Woods was a visionary and thinker, not a designer of practical buildings. One obituary called him “the last of the great paper architects.” Don’t look for this sculpture today in Bloom Square. It was moved to the roof of a SCI-Arc trustee’s building on Main Street in 2014.
What actually intrigues me more than the Woods sculpture is this painting of a dog using the perspective techniques of anamorphosis. Only when standing at one, precise location does the viewer see the painted image properly. From any other position, the image appears distorted, sometimes radically so. In the above photograph, I have moved slightly, and one already can see how the image of the dog appears to be listing to our left. I have no idea who the artist is, but it is a truly delightful bit of perspectival play.
Gonzalo Escobar is a friend of my daughter, Rya. She introduced us and brought me to his Burbank home where I took these photographs. Gonzalo is Argentinian. At the age of twenty, he came to Los Angeles, where he studied under Courtney Reid. His work appears to swing between expressionist studies of the human figure (where the influence of Reid is more apparent) to fully abstract, non-objective, paintings.
I emailed Gonzalo last month and attached this photograph of Deer Hunter. In his reply to me, he wrote the following: “I was looking at the photograph that you took from Deer Hunter and I realized that the painting works better upside down, so now this is the correct way of looking at it!” I have not reversed the photograph, but I would certainly agree that this painting is equally strong seen both ways. Thus, I accede to the artist and caution you that, in the above photograph, we are viewing Deer Hunter upside down.
What I particularly love about Gonzalo’s discovery of the “real” Deer Hunter is its connection to the beginning of non-objective art and to Wassily Kandinsky, the man who coined the term and was a pioneer of abstraction. In his journals, Kandinsky wrote about an experience in 1910, when he returned to his studio at sunset and encountered one of his paintings on its side, against the wall. He saw an “indescribably beautiful painting, all….forms and colors and no meaning.”
I could apply Kandinsky’s words to Deer Hunter (seen either way): It is “indescribably beautiful.”
The abstract artist, no longer committed to representing some visual aspect of the outside world, can more completely reveal her/his “inner necessity,” another of Kandinsky’s terms. So color, mark-making, the autographic gesture emanating from an artist’s hand become indicators of personality, possibly even psychological states. Gonzalo’s marks are at their best and most expressive when totally divorced from any aspect of the outside world.
In contrast to the first two photographs, this one and the final two are not intended as documents of Gonzalo’s paintings. They are, instead, my compositions: quick, candid shots, meant to convey character or mood. Were I merely documenting Gonzalo’s art, I would have taken separate shots of the four paintings seen here in the middle. In particular, I was drawn to the two oil studies on paper in the upper left, studies he did at Griffith Park at different times of the day. Seen close-up, they are gorgeous pieces.
Even though these last three photographs are, as I have said, intended as my compositions, in each is at least one of Gonzalo’s paintings. His response to them reveals the degree to which he remains beholden to the pedigree of Kandinsky’s inner necessity. He writes: “Your pictures hold every moment and I can feel myself in every one of them.”