Thursday, October 3, 2013

West Hollywood Art Walk

West Hollywood is both a creative city and a walking city! It is one of the few 'neighborhoods' in Los Angeles where you can actually walk to the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the dry cleaners, the gym, the bar, the library, and the museum, all within a few block radius. It is also the 'gayborhood', full of diversity and creativity! So what better way to enjoy a beautiful walk through the city than by taking in some of the numerous public art exhibits!

James Surls, "Eye Flower", West Hollywood by Alton DuLaney
So let's start our walking tour of West Hollywood where I started my own wild fascination with Art with a capital A, in the piney woods of Splendora! Growing up in the tiny-Texas-town of Splendora, art seemed a world away, at least until I met and then interned with James Surls. This world-renowned sculptor called Splendora home from 1977-1997, and even published a book, The Splendora Years, to commemorate his time there. 

Now that I live in West Hollywood, whenever I am missing my home town, I stroll up the hill to Sunset Plaza, and there nestled between shops and cafes, is a larger than life James Surls sculpture from 2002, entitled "Eye Flower". Incorporating two of Surls' reoccurring motifs, the eye and the flower, it is a magnificent and yet unexpected artistic statement, towering there in the plaza, casting fanciful shadows upon unsuspecting pedestrians as they  move about or pause to enjoy a magazine or cup of coffee.

From here head east on Sunset Boulevard, and make a right down the steep hill that is La Cienega. Just before reaching Santa Monica Boulevard, make a left onto Holloway and look for the Barney's Beanery.

Richard Artschwager, "BLPs", West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney
This is unquestionably the most subtle artistic statement in West Hollywood, but like most art, it must be taken in context. If you look very closely at the Barney's Beanery sign, you will see in the upper rightt-hand corner, one of Artschwager's famous black lozenge-shaped marks, known as a BLP.  Artschwager developed this artistic statement in the 1960's to inspire focus, and to draw the viewers eye to things we might otherwise overlook. 

Artschwager famously used his guerrilla techinique at his Whitney Museum exhibit in 1968, placing 100 of his BLP's throughout the museum, drawing attention to the brutalist architecture of Marcel Breuer who designed the museum. 

The Hammer Museum recently presented a retrospective of the artist, who died in February 2013, and as part of the exhibit, BLB's where installed across Los Angeles including at least 4 that I spotted in West Hollywood. (In conjunction with the Whitney Museum of American Art, BLP's were also installed in Los Vegas and in NYC!)  

Artschwager once explained that his BLP's were inspired by the exclamation point, which is my favorite punctuation!

William Sweetlove, "Cloned Dogs with Water Bottles", West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

 Speaking of something to get excited about, just across the street is evidence of the great art heist of West Hollywood 2013!! The Belgian artist, William Sweetlove, installed his colorful sentry of "Cloned Bulldogs with Water Bottles", (a statement on climate change), earlier this summer along the grassy knoll of Santa Monica Boulevard just in time for the annual Gay Pride Parade in June. Each of his bulldogs with base loom over 9 feet tall, and weigh several hundred pounds. When the dust and glitter from the Gay Pride Parade settled, imagine the surprise of city officials when they discovered that one of the statues had been 'dog-napped'! Despite a thorough investigation including posting lost-dog signs around West Hollywood, and a reward offered from the artist himself, the missing pink bulldog was never located. The empty pink base stands as a forlorn reminder of this summer caper!

From here, let's walk west along Santa Monica Boulevard, admiring the cafes that dot the sidewalk and the breeze that rustles through the palm trees. In a few blocks you will come to Hancock Avenue. A few parking spots up on the right side of the street, lost amongst the perplexing array of signage that has resulted in more than a few of my guests being ticketed or towed, is perhaps the most poetic of public art to be found in West Hollywood.

Rebecca Lowry, "Regard" West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney
Rebecca Lowry is an artist with a background in architecture, and a kindred spirit who enjoys a fanciful play on words. Her street art Haikus are scattered around West Hollywood and displayed in multiple languages to exemplify the cultural diversity of our fair little city, where election ballots are printed in both English and Russian! This one on Hancock is my favorite, as it is testament to the beauty of words, and  mere footsteps from where I live.

Now before we get too lost in deep contemplative thought, let's venture farther west on SMB taking in the other famous art forms of West Hollywod, the beautiful men who call this their home and playground. The bars and boutiques of the next few blocks are collectively referred to as 'Boystown' and it doesn't take an aesthete or art historian to figure out why.

Now if you make a left at the Rainbow Crosswalk on St. Vicente, you will see looming in the distance the iconic Pacific Design Center - three epic glass structures in red, green and blue. The PDC is home to countless design firms, galleries and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), should you require a respite from the sun. But for now, I suggest that instead you veer into the West Hollywood Park on the opposite side of the street and head back behind the tennis courts to a lost little corner where you might notice a few figures against a green wall.

Ramiro Gomez, "The Caretakers: :Los Cuidadores", West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney
 These characters are actually a figurative mural by West Hollywood based Latino artist Ramiro Gomez. His work aims to draw attention to the invisible people in our community who help keep our thins beautiful and clean - the gardeners, nannies, valets, and house keepers, who are typically Latino, and typically under-represented. Gomez, who claims to have worked as a nanny himself, fashions his paintings after amalgamations of other staff he has met. These three ladies are Daisy, Elsa, and Lacy.

Cosimo Cavallaro, "love Your Beans", West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

Another Latino artist, who's work is much more visible, is Cosimo Cavallaro. His gigantic, brighly colored jelly beans are hard to miss, as they lounge beneath one of the park's many expansive tree. Cavallaro, who normally works in the perishable medium of food-stuffs, collaborate with master fabricator Jack Brogan to create these brilliant giants with a much longer shelf-life. Over the last few weeks, I have watched kids, young and old, frolicking around and stroking the smooth surface, as they marvel at this fun installation.

Liz Craft, "The Temple of Folly", West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

 A few steps farther down on St Vicente, and the astute viewer encounters the temple where all artist worship. No not a church, but "The Temple of Folly"! This tee-pee-like structure, by artist Liz Craft, with the all-seeing-eye, is either an homage to the Illuminati (How do I join?!) or an ode to every kid who ever built a back yard fort. Craft claims to draw upon a variety of "fantastical and hallucinatory sources". Clearly!

At the edge of the park is the temple to the book, the West Hollywood Library, an artistic and architectural statement in and of itself. A few years back, as part of the "Art In The Street" exhibit at the MOCA museums, curator Jeffery Deitch worked with Vanity Fair, Cadillac, and the West Hollywood Library to bring us the West Hollywood Murals - three large scale murals on the parking structure of the library.

Kenny Scharf, West Hollywood Library Mural, West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

The first mural as seen from the park, is by artist Kenny Scharf. Scharf got his start in NYC's East Village art scene and was inspired by early subway graffiti. His signature style has been featured in nightclub decor, clothing, toys, a B-52's album cover, and at least on one convertible I saw zipping along Sunset Boulevard! It is fun and whimsical and adds a great pop of color to what might otherwise be a drab parking structure.

Venturing clockwise around the library, down what appears to be an ally, one is presented with the calligraphic and hieroglyphic style of the artist know as Retna!
Retna, West Hollywood Library Murals, West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

Retna, aka Marquis Lewis, got his start in LA graffiti writing, and made a name for himself by combining Mayan, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese traditions with Cholo writing techniques. His work can be seen all over Los Angeles, from galleries to billboards.

Continuing clockwise around the library will bring you to the biggest piece of art in West Hollywood.
Shepard Fairy, West Hollywood Library Murals, West Hollywood, by Alton DuLaney

The entire back of the parking structure is painted by perhaps one of the most famous street artist, Shepard Fairy. Fairy gained notoriety as a 19 year-old skater who combined a grainy image of Andre the Giant with the words OBEY. His sticker art could soon be found across the globe. Numerous product endorsements followed, and in 2008 he helped elect the first African-American president of the United States with his Obama "Hope" campaign.  The large scale and graphic force presented in this mural at the West Hollywood Library is typical of his style and makes quite an impressive statement! And for one last dose of Fairy, step inside the library's coffee show, where the walls are covered in his signature style, and reward yourself with a  refreshing beverage for having combined exercise with culture, on your West Hollywood Art Walk!

There is much more to see art-wise in West Hollywood, and the installations and exhibits are always changing. So the next time you have a little extra time on you hands (or feet!) take a walk around the neighborhood and keep your eyes open!!

For more information check out the city of West Hollywood Arts and Culture site @

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