Graffiti. Mostly on the streets, sometimes in galleries and always in heated art conversations, this spray-can form of expression remains a huge part of Los Angeles' identity.
Looking to create a supportive, communal space for experienced and budding artists, the recently-established Graffiti House L.A. focuses on offering graffiti artists the opportunity to create indoor pieces, meet other artists and pick up commercial work. Located right off the 101 freeway near Silver Lake, GHLA opened its doors about a month ago thanks to the efforts of a group with very different talents -- currently, 22 members work in creative, marketing and development teams. The unassuming building blends in with the rest of the street and the interior reveals a long hallway dotted with office doors.
"You'd never imagine it [GHLA] being so huge when you walk in and then when you see the long hallway you're like 'what is that?' and it kinda takes you to where the magic happens," Vatsana Souvannavong, a team member who previously worked in the fashion world, says.
That magic lies in the warehouse-like space hidden in the back of the building past the hallway, a space with walls that would make any spray-paint artist's fingers twitch with excitement. Those walls already contain works like a large collaborative piece executed by artists and team members CALE and VYAL and a humorously decorated door featuring those two artists and CACHE.
Other walls show the results from GHLA's Silver & True Blue Graffiti Battle and logos from the brand Monster Energy. That sight speaks to GHLA's goal to help artists seeking work funded by brands and other commercial entities. By offering a space for artists and opportunities for growth, Souvannavong sees GHLA as a means to reduce vandalism in the city and foster the creative growth of graffiti writers without other resources.
While the large walls contain mostly spray-painted murals, the locale also uses its space to hang works on canvas for specific shows. With the closure of galleries like Crewest and Hold Up Art -- places where VYAL and others showed work -- the city lacks a strong graffiti-focused establishment for talented artists and budding ones. While galleries like Lab Art and Known Gallery also show street art and graffiti talent, GHLA fills a need for graffiti to do what they do best -- paint huge walls. In addition, by incorporating the community into its mission, GHLA goes beyond the traditional gallery.
Though not yet open to the public, GHLA plans on hosting shows in the future. It already maintains an online presence, featuring artists on its site in video and Q&A sections, plus a blog to follow graffiti and street art happenings.
Souvannavong hopes it will a becomes a staple for Los Angeles that will get more Angelenos and tourists interested in graffiti art.
"A lot of the public, I know, socializes it as vandalism for sure," says Souvannavong. "And we're trying to educate the public that it's not. It's actually very beautiful art, something that probably a lot of these artists who call themselves artists probably can't do. Because it's spray paint, it's not like a paintbrush. You know what I mean? It's not like they went to a school for it. There's no school for this. It's raw talent."
Seasoned graffiti artist VYAL got involved with the team after receiving an invitation from CALE to paint a GHLA wall. As part of GHLA's creative team, VYAL seeks new talent and is looking to start workshops.
"I have worked out in this area before and I know the needs of this community really well," VYAL says. "Of course, within every community there's a need for the alternative art programs. And graffiti is definitely an alternative art program that needs more backing and more places to open their doors up to the young writer trying to figure out what the fuck he's gonna do."
The concerns of Graffiti House speak to the larger, significant issue of public art in the city. A couple weekends ago, L.A. Art Show hosted a panel on murals featuring figures like Tanner Blackman and former Crewest owner Man One; they and other figures continue to fight for a mural ordinance allowing for more public art. GHLA hopes to offer a place for artists to create without worrying about laws and graffiti fans to see art without fearing city buffing.
"People can come and take a look at the work and stuff and, again, we can provide a safe environment and not hope and pray that MOCA decides to have another 'Art in the Streets' or that these big museums are gonna acknowledge it," said VYAL, referring to MOCA's 2011 exhibition that made history as the first major museum retrospective in the United States focusing on graffiti and street art. "We can just do it here for people -- real fans and people that want to see this work, and monumental work at that. We're not just doing small little paintings here, we have huge walls and we're able to do big productions.... And just have that space available to blow people's minds."