Snapshot: Los Angeles

Ausschnitt Los Angeles Mural by Tristan Eaton Artist: Tristan Eaton, Photo ©Lord Jim

Street Art and the Sprawling Metropolis of Los Angeles

Los Angeles and street art were made for one another. The second largest city in the United States is a sprawling metropolis that is well known for its cultural diversity and ties to the film industry. From L.A.’s beaches and its Mediterranean climate to the busyness of its distinct neighborhoods and districts that come together like a city planner’s Voltron, the low-rise buildings, abundance of billboards, and generous use of concrete have created a canvas that rivals the history of white cube gallery exhibits. The refined museum curation that has kept art from living in the spaces inhabited by the general public is counterbalanced by street art that comes to meet us where we live and work each day in Los Angeles. 
Street art has exploded in popularity since it made its initial debut in the 1980s as a distinct form of public art that was birthed from graffiti, yet not quite sanctioned as a form of art, unlike the murals and sculptures that dot our urban and suburban landscapes. Street art differentiated itself because it was less about words and letters, like graffiti.  Instead, street art was more image-based and friendly toward the general spectator since its message and subject matter were often easily recognized. However, street artists still often used spray paint, and their work was still technically un-commissioned (read: illegal), making it live in between these two genres of art making.
  • Los Angeles Graffiti by Mr. Cartoon and othersu.A. Artist: Mr. Cartoon, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Graffiti "I heart LA" by Jennifer Korsen Artist: Jennifer Korsen, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Artist: Banksy, Photo © Lord Jim Artist: Banksy, Photo © Lord Jim
  • "Kobe - Legends are forever" by Royyal Dog (Chris Chanyang Shim, 심찬양) Artist: Royyal Dog (Chris Chanyang Shim, 심찬양), Foto © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by IT’S A LIVING (Ricardo Gonzalez) Artist: IT’S A LIVING (Ricardo Gonzalez), Photo © Lord Jim
  • Massive Los Angeles Mural by Tristan Eaton Artist: Tristan Eaton, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Graffiti von Case Maclaim Künstler: Case Maclaim, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Stencil work by JPS (Jamie Paul Scanlon) Artist: JPS (Jamie Paul Scanlon), Photo © Lord Jim
  • Los Angeles Graffiti Artist: Unknown, Photo © Lord Jim

The accessibility of street art is why I believe it does so well in a city like Los Angeles. The city moves quickly via rats’ nests of highways and freeways and mimics L.A. residents’ attention spans, which only get shorter year to year. Fortunately, street art does not require the viewer to go anywhere to enjoy it, and it meets us in the middle of our day, whether on the side of a traffic control switch box or adjacent to a building where we have an afternoon meeting. Street artists are careful in their placement, often complementing the landscape and thinking strategically about how and where it will be viewed. In this way, street artists borrow so many of the successful tactics of advertising, the film industry, and guerrilla warfare to ensure their art is seen by as many people as possible. It’s a strategy that rewards hustle, ingenuity, and enthusiasm.
  • Graffiti von D*Face und Retna auf Teilen der Berliner Mauer in Los Angeles Artist: D*Face / Retna, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by IT’S A LIVING (Ricardo Gonzalez) Artist: IT’S A LIVING (Ricardo Gonzalez), Photo © Lord Jim
  • 8bit Space Invader Tile Installation by Space Invader Artist: Invader, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural Graffiti by Case/Maclaim Artist: Case/MaClaim, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Nychos © Artist: Nychos / Foto: Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by D*Face Artist: D*Face / © Foto: Lord Jim
  • Stencil work by Banksy Artist: Banksy / © Photo: Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Pixelpancho Artist: Pixelpancho, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Low Bros (Christoph and Florin Schmidt) Artist: Low Bros (Christoph and Florin Schmidt) / Photo: Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Hush Artist: Hush, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Mr. Lister Artist: Mister Lister, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Wheatpaste Mural by JR Artist: JR, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti by Herakut Artists: Herakut, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Full wall Graffiti "Heartship" by How and Nosm (Raoul and Davide Perré) Artists: How and Nosm (Raoul and Davide Perré), Photo © Lord Jim

Los Angeles hosts an ever-changing roster of street artists that range from the giants and mainstays to the newcomers who pass through like an ever-changing billboard. Shepard Fairey, the founder of OBEY, is the biggest name on the block, but there are a number of important and gifted artists who also contribute to the L.A. street art scene. Other major street artists include one of the O.G.s of the genre, Kenny Scharf, along with David Flores, Tristan Eaton, Retna, Mister Cartoon, El Mac, and Christina Angelina, to name a few.  Yet, a city like L.A. also attracts street artists from around the world due to its friendly weather plus the spotlight and visibility that street art receives here. Significant contributions around the city include pieces by Banksy, Herakut, Nychos, Invader and D*Face, along with works by hundreds of other artists who have made names for themselves — or hope to someday — by making art in L.A.
  • Detail of a mural collaboration by Shepard Fairey and Vhils Artists: Shepard Fairey / Vhils, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural by David Flores Artist: David Flores, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural by Jules Muck Artist: Jules "Muckrock" Muck, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Mural Paster by MBW (Mr. Brainwash) Artist: Mr Brainwash MBW, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Mural Graffiti by Kenny Scharf Artist: Kenny Scharf, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Graffiti Legend Risk at work on a wall at RFK High School Artist: Risk, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Wall collaboration by Retna und Vhils Artists: Retna / Vhils, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Mural "Alphonse Mucha" by Mear One Artist: Mear One, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Wheat Paste by Skullphone Artist: Skullphone, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Graffiti Mural "The Mother Creator II" von EL MAC (Miles MacGregor) Artist: EL MAC (Miles MacGregor), Photo © Lord Jim
  • Detail of a mural collaboration by Shepard Fairey and Vhils Artists: Augustine Kofie, Photo ©Lord Jim
  • Los Angeles Mural by  Cryptik / Karen Bystedt / Nick Flatt Artists: Cryptik / Karen Bystedt / Nick Flatt, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural by Bumblebeelovesyou Artist: Bumblebeelovesyou, Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural Collaboration by El Mac and Retna Artists: El Mac und Retna , Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural by Christina Angelina aka "Starfighter" Artist: Christina Angelina aka "Starfighter", Photo © Lord Jim
  • Mural "Ed Ruscha" by Kent Twitchell Artist: Kent Twitchell, Photo © Lord Jim
Yet, nothing lasts forever in Los Angeles. Street art may pop up unannounced, and the art itself may only exist for a few hours, where the natural elements, another artist, property owners, or law enforcement may destroy or buff it. The unknown duration of a piece can be frustrating for some but it’s part of the street art game. Even well-known staples in the community will disappear after years of safety.

Los Angeles is the ultimate concrete jungle and is the perfect foil for postmodernism in the narrative of art. Modernism being the dominant philosophy of art-making during the 20th century, graffiti and street art only begin to gain popularity as the story of modernism comes to an end in the second half of the 20th century. Enter street art, which is often considered within an art historical context as anti-modern. We can interpret street art as a reaction to the white walls, powerful institutions, and personalities that were products of the modern era, of which L.A. has plenty. Street art, in contrast, is created by a single entity, who is often powerless, and the work contrasts with the cool sleekness of the gray concrete landscape.

The ephemeral nature of street art is part of its beauty; as the city changes year to year, so does its art.

The diversity of L.A.’s population and the way the city is organized is what makes and continues to facilitate such a wide variety of subject matter, styles, and creative solutions in its street art.  While street art has become a much more populist art form in recent years, some of its practitioners have become muralists, a form seen by some as a more legitimized type of art. Nevertheless, there remains a plethora of street art to experience in every neighborhood of L.A. The ephemeral nature of street art is part of its beauty; as the city changes year to year, so does its art. A gallery without a curator, street art is a public bulletin board that represents many issues and ideas that are important in such a large and diverse city. While no one work could encompass what L.A. is all about, the variety of street art throughout the city does capture what Los Angeles means to its fans.



G. James Daichendt is the author of ‘Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art’ and ‘Shepard Fairey Inc: Artist/Professional/Vandal’ and several other books on contemporary art. He is a professor of art history and dean of the college at Point Loma Nazarene University. Jim Daichendt earned his doctorate from Columbia and master’s degrees from Harvard and Boston University.