Great cities are often judged by their architecture, economics, cuisine, or history. But there’s another criteria that ought to be on the list: Their street art.
Many cities have great street art traditions — I recently wrote about Paris, for example — but as I’ve wandered Los Angeles I’ve been especially amazed at the breadth and distinctness of its murals, posters, and graffiti.
Some of this art is legal under an ordinance that allows murals on commercial buildings, and some of it is not. There are also entire websites, books, documentaries and other media about L.A. street art, so I won’t try to get into it all in this post. Instead, I present a small collection of pieces I’ve seen recently while wandering.
Near Melrose between Fairfax and La Brea:
The piece above combines traditional graffiti with images from the book Where the Wild Things Are. Just a couple of blocks away, there’s a large mural of Hillary Clinton looking like Rosie the Riveter and eating a hamburger.
This stretch of Melrose is an especially good place to see street art in L.A., and is only likely to become more so thanks to a mural project launched earlier this year. If you’re going, make sure to check out the alleys that run parallel to Melrose behind all the shops.
Among downtown LA’s many charms are its massive murals. The piece above towers over a parking lot on Main Street. The piece below uses a subtraction method, removing plaster from the side of the building to create an incredibly emotive, three-dimensional image.
The Los Angeles Times has created an interactive map of some murals in the downtown-adjacent Art’s District.
The corner of 3rd and La Brea:
Late last year and early this year, an artist known as Sabo did two pieces in the Mid-Wilshire/Miracle Mile area. The first was a controversial fake Rolling Stone cover about Lena Dunham. I present it here without comment on or endorsement of the message. Rather, I include it because it’s an intellectually challenging piece that — whether you agree with the thesis or not — is engaging with then-current events.
That’s one of the interesting things about LA’s street art: it’s explicitly part of a conversation about what’s going on in the world. Case in point: another Sabo piece (below) that appeared in the same spot a few months later and depicted the execution of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS.
Speaking of current events, the piece above appeared in the heart of LA’s Koreatown a couple of months ago right after a mailman landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn in Washington, DC.
The piece above showed up on the back of the ice cream shop Milk late last year. Also last year, there was a construction site just off of Beverly where people always wrote messages, sometimes going back and forth with each other. It was a fun thing while it lasted. (Unfortunately the construction was making way for a store that sells $92 tank tops and $155 sweat pants.)
And finally, this mural is just east of MacArthur Park. It depicts famous high school teacher Jaime Escalante (right) with actor Edward James Olmos, who played Escalante in the film Stand and Deliver.
— Jim Dalrymple II