Saturday, January 1, 2011


Click to "embiggen" - both photos

Slauson Avenue bisects South Central Los Angeles from east to west. The Santa Fe railroad tracks run parallel to the road on the north side. It's an industrial corridor, but on the south side, the buildings keep a public face, trying to attract commerce and customers with colorful signs, welcoming parking lots, and small cafes and taco joints. On the north side - beyond the barren tracks - the warehouses, industrial plants, factories and junkyards turn their backs on the passer by, with tall fences, razor-wire coils, and windowless walls.

But here, at Slauson and Normandie, in a stretch of a long block, you can see the vast canvas of fences and blind surfaces have been used by muralists and artists to express their creativity.

The sign in the top photo says "Wildasin." This is a neighborhood named after a pioneering family that moved here in 1884. This used to be a farming community. Then a thriving industrial town. Now it's a derelict and abandoned stretch of fences and corrugated panels that turns its back on the world. Except here, on these surfaces, where the human spirit connects it all its vulgar, garish, messy beauty.

I like the color and vivid force in the paintings that add a punch of life to this bleak scene. Isn't it amazing how human beings will make and embellish the marks they make on our world?

That's just my opinion. What do you think? Click to "embiggen" the photos, and tell me.

For those who might see this as a sign of criminal behavior and urban blight, please note - these murals would not remain if the property owners didn't allow them. So that's not an issue. But tell me what you think.

All the while, the vast and everchanging Los Angeles sky arches above all this.

UPDATE: a commenter brings up a good point. The cost of graffiti removal is a burden on property owners. But I can only tell you what I observed. There were no murals on the adjoining properties for blocks around.

Here's an example, just a few blocks east. Are there tags? Yes. Is there trash? Yes. Is it dilapidated, ugly, and desolate? Yes. But one of the reasons I took the photos was because the stretch of roadway had been so unrelievedly not-painted for blocks, and these murals were a sudden stand-out of color. Another thing to point out is that murals and tagging are not the same.

If you want to see more examples of LA graffiti from a better photographer than me, visit this link to an exhibition by Larry Yust at the Fowler Museum.

View Larger Map
Like I said, I can only write about what I observed. Don't believe me? Take a visit for yourself. Take a street-view walk. The murals are on Slauson east of Normandie. Walk around. Head east toward Vermont, or go west toward Western.

Am I naive? Perhaps. Am I absurd? No more than anyone else. Am I delusional? Wish it were true - it would be so much more fun. Am I liberal? Proudly.

Feel free to weigh in. Be civil, as always.


Sheila said...

"These murals would not remain if the property owners did not allow them" OMG, what delusional planet are you living on anyway? Yeah, the owners could get out there with paint every single morning to try to cover up the destruction that has been done to their property in the preceeding hours. Graffitti removal is an expensive proposition and a lucrative business in LA. Not everyone can afford to keep up with the destruction that is done to their property on a daily basis. That doesn't mean that they approve of it being there. Your liberal naivate borders on absurdity in this instance. It's obvious you haven't lived in LA very long.

Tristan Robin said...

Well, I think they're gorgeous. Certainly more attractive than a corrugated tin fence would be! And it has energy and movement. Love it.

Sheila, dear, lighten up! This is not the same thing as dirty words scrawled on a bridge overpass. Just saying!

Glennis said...

I visited Sheila's blog and invited her to continue the discussion. She has a good point and I addressed it in an update.

So as we continue to discuss - please be civil.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

If I weren't so liberal, I'm sure I'd see all those jobs the Bush tax cuts generated. And balanced budgets, also.

Darn the naivete!

Sheila said...

Why don't you go over to the Slausen- Normandie neighborhood and walk it in person rather than a virtual could immerse yourself in the neighborhood and get to know the emerging talent. Saturday evening after 11 p.m. would be a good time so that you may observe the local artistes plying their craft all the way live. Why not bring a can and join in the fun! Don't forget your piece, sista. And don't get caught painting over someone else's stuff. They don't like that.

SUEB0B said...

I live in a neighborhood with a lot of graffiti. I don't know if any of it rises to the level of muralism. I don't like it for the reason that people are painting on things that don't belong to them. I was taught to respect the property of others - to do my best not to damage what is not mine. I don't understand the feeling of entitlement that allows these "artists" to paint on things that aren't theirs. To me, it shows disrespect and contributes to incivility.

Glennis said...

Thank you, SueB0B for articulating a reasoned objection in a way that is principled and simple.

Continue, anyone who might also want to comment.

Anonymous said...

Prior to clicking on the top photo to enlarge it -- and obviously prior to reading the post itself -- I thought it was a photograph of a distant but colorful market scene.

I've seen lovely traditional murals painted on walls in a number of towns, and I've seen colorful art murals decorating what would otherwise be dull slabs of concrete or wood. Graffiti certainly turned the "western" side of the Berlin Wall into Something More than it was meant to be by the builders.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti (and here I am only talking about graffiti done in an artful manner, minus offensive words and symbols) because while it is adding color to an otherwise blank or dreary space, it is placed there without permission from the owners.
I can enjoy a decorated scene from the train window (again, minus slurs and gang sign), but what if it was my garage wall?

For me, there is also the issue of intent: was the graffiti artist creating art, marking territory, or simply feeling entitled to do whatever he/she felt like doing at the time?

I whole-heartedly admit to seeing this subject from an outside perspective. There is very little-to-none in my own semi-rural community (and when it does appear, it is promptly removed). But I will be on the lookout for it in the next few weeks, and perhaps photograph what I do find.

Tristan Robin said...

I also live in a city - albeit not as large as L.A.! - AND graffiti is an issue here, as in most cities.

Some of the graffiti is IMO beautiful - and some of it's nothing more than initials, nasty words, and gang signs.

There are areas (mostly in the Latino neighborhoods) where the graffiti is not only allowed - but, in a way, valued. It's never removed - and rarely (ever?) defaced by other graffiti artists, including gang members.

The bad stuff is cleaned away - and our city does have a fund you can apply to get the funds to have your private property painted with some kind of finish that is graffiti resistant (nothing is completely graffiti-proof).

I think it's just a matter of opinion. And if my property were damaged, I might feel differently. I happen to live in an area of the city where graffiti rarely happens, except for the occasional tag on a newspaper box.

I should apologize for my previous post. I realize I was more strident than I would have liked to be, mainly because I was offended by the tone the original comment was written in. I found it disrespectful.

Sorry if I offended anybody by my words.

Tristan Robin said...

P.S. I still think the photos show a much more attractive sight than a rusted out corrugated tin fence would be. And, ALL corrugated in fences get rusty.

cactus petunia said...

Wow! Now you've given me a lot to think about on a Monday morning!

I have to say, (moral issues aside) graffiti, like all art (and I insist that graffiti CAN be considered an art form) some of it is beautiful, and some of it is just plain awful.

Tristan Robin is right. These examples are not the same thing as dirty words scrawled on an overpass, but Sheila is also right: most graffiti is done without permission on someone else's property.

It's also a tradition that's been around for thousands of years, and in many cases ancient graffiti has given historians insight into cultures long gone.

And me? I'd much rather look at an illegally-painted beautiful piece of graffiti than an ugly Budweiser billboard any day.

You've shown us some beautiful examples, and as always, given us a thoughtful essay about humanity.

materfamilias said...

Wow! I see what you mean about having raised some controversy.

While I admit to being shielded from having my own property exposed to these paintings, and while I'm sympathetic to the costs borne by owners, I don't see these acts as ones of "entitlement." I think if one is raised with the possibility of ownership, it's much easier buying into the idea of respect for private property. If one is excluded from it as so many now feel they are, from birth, I can imagine finding it much more difficult to respect someone else's. In my own naïveté, I guess I see this kind of artwork as a kind of Occupy movement of its own, asking us to reflect on the whole concept of ownership and exclusion. Again, I admit I'm in a fortunate position to make these observations.
And at the most basic level, I agree with you, Aunt Snow, and find them exuberant and arresting works, enlivening their neighbourhoods.