"I LOVE YOU L.A., I'M JUST NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU," reads the billboard on Lincoln Boulevard, just south of Washington. The letters are mustard-yellow, all caps, a sans-serif font with classic-retro "distressing" and a 3-D shadow effect. The background simulates the texture of brown burlap, making the whole thing look like an ad for an airline or a cupcake store, or maybe an upstart sports team.
Similar billboards can be seen on the Westside and in Greater Hollywood, with slightly different fonts and color schemes, but with the same vibe. "SORRY L.A., IT'S OVER." "Don't worry, IT'S NOT YOU, L.A., IT'S ME." "Los Angeles, I THINK WE NEED TO SEE OTHER CITIES." "IT'S COOL, WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS, L.A."
At the bottom of all five boards are two small, overlapping circles, one reading "ADIOS L.A." and the other with a number from one through five, indicating a sequential series.
L.A. is a great billboard town. There are billboards the size of athletic fields; vanity billboards put up by aspiring celebrities; and billboards with novelty shapes, enhancing apparatuses and conceptual relationships with other, nearby billboards. There are even billboards that can make you laugh out loud. But no billboard tickles, confounds, agitates or pisses us off more than one with an odd message and no clearly stated owner.
So just where did these billboards come from and what's their point?
"I think it'd be for travel, to get out of L.A.," says Lisa Britton, 30, an entertainment reporter originally from Canada, walking by the "NEED TO SEE OTHER CITIES" billboard at Beverly and Formosa. "Like, 'Go to New York, it's a better city!' "
"I think it's negative. I don't support it," declares Khambi Hamis, a purposefully intense man in his mid 20s, recently arrived from East Africa. "I think we should not need to see other cities. Whatever I see in L.A. is everywhere, in every city that I have gone to. In part of L.A., there is East Africa. There are mountains. There is New York in L.A., there are tall buildings. So going to other cities is just stupid."
Daniel Dehner, a 24-year-old Florida transplant now working at the Hollywood Trading Co. down the street, has a more benign view. "It means, 'Just explore.' Go out and see different things," says Dehner, who, with his long blond hair and easygoing, '70s rocker vibe, looks like he walked out of the movie Almost Famous. "And I see a lot of peace colors in there, too. It's pretty mellow."
But is there any negativity in the message? "It sounds anti-L.A., like they want you to get out of the city — 'cause there's too many people here — but, nah, they probably don't mean that. They probably just want you to be happy and explore," Dehner says.
The billboards are actually the work of Jonathan Jackson, a successful 36-year-old graphic designer and creative director who grew up in Glendale and has lived in Greater L.A. his whole life.
Suddenly faced with a move to Brooklyn to take a dream job in his field, Jackson views the project mostly as a conceptual art/design endeavor to get him buzz in his profession. But it's also a little bit of a personal goodbye to the only city he's ever lived in.
"I thought, 'What am I gonna miss about L.A.?' " says Jackson, a handsome, sharp-featured guy. " 'What are the things I don't like about L.A.?' But that's kinda negative. And then, 'What if L.A. missed me?' And that's where it ended up."
Many people have ambivalent, love/hate relationships with their cities, and they engage in endless conversations about how the place sucks yet is great. But in L.A. this dilemma is more self-consciously referred to and wryly exploited in entertainment. Is Jackson's creation "art"?
"There are definitely blog posts that tell me not to let the door hit me on the ass on my way out," he says. "People either think it's funny or clever or that I'm arrogant or I have all this money, like I'm the wealthiest man in the world." In fact, the billboards were a steal at $1,700 total, including artwork production.
Art project aside, what's most interesting is how accurately he nails this city's resemblance to the beautiful-yet-dysfunctional partner that's sometimes easy to leave yet just as easy to romanticize.
"Everybody talks about 'I have to get out of L.A., I gotta go somewhere,' " Britton says. "Then, when you leave L.A., you always want to come back."