This year should have been a pinnacle for street art in Los Angeles. A 10-year ban on public murals was lifted at the end of last year, and our city, with unlimited walls and unmeasurable creative energy, was expected to become saturated with public color. But, as is often the case in L.A., bureaucracy got in the way.
“Instead of the mural boom everybody expected, the city's confounding rules have led to the destruction of more murals than they've helped create,” says Fredrik Lidskog, one of the city's premier cataloguers of street art. Murals by greats like Shepard Fairey, Ron English and David Choe have all been recently whitewashed because of bureaucratic nonsense.
The new freedom did, however, draw some fresh local artists and prominent international artists to try their skills on L.A. walls. While the old guard of former graffiti-heads such as Retna and Madsteez have been phoning in their new work, seeming more interested in connecting with wealthy collectors and brands than average folks on the street, a crop of new geniuses has flooded in to take their place.
Striking, colorful, insightful new murals have popped up all over the city. The diversity of the neighborhoods in which they appear is matched only by the diversity of artists themselves. We have a Brazilian in Little Tokyo. A German in Playa del Rey. An Englishman in Culver City.
Below is a list of best works of 2014. We enlisted the help of four experts in the field, all respected researchers and photographers of L.A. street art:
- Erin Mitchell of Lost Angeles Street Art (Instagram)
- BJ DeHut of Gremlinhouse
- Frederik Lidskog of Impermanent Art (Instagram)
- Mitchel Dumlao of L.A. Street Art Gallery
The factors they considered were beauty, originality, political message and the diversity of the artists' backgrounds and locations of their paintings.
Here is our final list:
10. Hueman (Los Angeles) and RISK (Los Angeles) – DTLA (See image at top)
Allison “Hueman” Torneros teamed up with veteran graffiti guru RISK for this gorgeous piece at Third and Main in Little Tokyo. There's something distinctively Los Angeles about it: a refracted Hollywood starlet dripping with purple spray paint watches over a nondescript corner of the concrete jungle.
9. Bicicleta Sem Freio (Brazil) – Little Tokyo
The Brazilian trio spent 10 days painting a colossal mural that wraps around an entire building in Little Tokyo. Funded by the Do Art Foundation along with Legendary Developments and the Los Angeles City Council, Bicicleta unleashes a giant blast of neon beach onto the normally drab landscape of Little Tokyo.
8. Cryptik (Los Angeles) and Nick Flatt (Texas) – Fairfax
Cryptik's calligraphy and Nick Flatt's adapted Karen Bystedt photo of Warhol combine for a striking symbolic piece on Fairfax. Warhol waves his toy flag over the streetwear capital that's developed on Fairfax between Melrose and Third. The work mixes Middle-East iconography with an already paradoxical image of American culture, a perfect accompaniment to the hordes of colorful sneaker geeks filing down the street.
7. Beau Stanton (Brooklyn) – Arts District
Stanton's modestly sized piece on the corner of Mateo and Seventh is visible onlywhen traveling south on Mateo. Its electricity serves as a fitting centerpiece to the neighborhood, which has become an exponentially growing source of culture, and is home to Bestia, Stumptown, Church & State, Blue Bottle Coffee and the Springs. Stanton's mechanistic representation of an X-rayed head doesn't make a clear statement, but its aesthetic impact is unmatched.
6. Bumblebee Loves You (Los Angeles) – Fairfax
Fittingly frozen on the facade of a store called Majestic Flowers, Bumblebee's mural is part of an initiative launched in collaboration with foster organization Together We Rise. The work, entitled Just in Case, seeks to raise consciousness for young people and children seeking a family. Its encapsulation of innocence on a street corner tugs at least one heartstring for every frustrated driver trafficking by.
5. D*Face (London) – Culver City
Going Everywhere Fast by English sensation D*Face covers the wall of the Corey Helford Gallery on Washington Boulevard. It was one of three he painted in L.A. in 2014. His simple pop-art style sets him miles apart from other muralists and is clean-cut enough to be mistaken for a logo. This piece speaks to our city's three most prominent fixtures — blondes, motors and dead celebrities.
4. Plastic Jesus (Los Angeles) – West Hollywood
Plastic Jesus is a sort of less subtle Bansky whose political oevre includes the Oscar statue injecting heroin, a famous response to the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This small, black-and-white stencil painted behind the Starbucks on Melrose and Stanley, however, spoke even louder. The piece was quickly painted over, but not before it went viral all over the world. What better place for a reminder that fame is not the answer than a Starbucks in West Hollywood?
3. Kim West (Los Angeles) – Arts District
Kim West's gorgeous nature scenes have been bringing life to the Arts District since 2009's violent Welcome to Hollywood. The mother of two spent weeks painting this work, Ode to Bohemia, in March after being given the directive “do with it what you will.” West, inspired by the corner of Seventh and Mill as a “literal intersection of the haves and have nots,” sought to take viewers on on a journey across the physical length of the walls. “Conceptually, the piece begins in loss, and then becomes about memories, and the will to manifest from them a place to visit,” says West, “a sort of daydreamed, fractured recollection of reality.”
Aesthetically speaking, Herakut's work was our experts' favorite by a substantial margin. The German duo “Hera” and “Akut” created three spectacular murals in Playa Vista and Santa Monica, facilitated by Lebasse Projects and Industry Partners. Each mural has a story and a title. This one is called Striving for Truth, a reference to an Einstein quote: “Striving for truth and beauty is a sphere in which we are allowed to stay children throughout life.”
1. Winston Death Squad – Skid Row
Much has been written about Skid Row this year, as the gentrification war directed reverse-Barbarians (as L.A. Weekly's Hillel Aron so adeptly put it) toward its rotted gates. The citizens of Skid Row, led by a man named General Jeff, are demanding recognition, even if the image-conscious city and profit-hungry developers want to ignore them. When the city tried to rebrand it as “Central City East,” Jeff got local art collective Winston Death Squad to paint a sign marking the neighborhood with its proper name.
“Skid Row is known all over the world,” Jeff says. “Yet this is the only place in Skid Row where it actually says Skid Row publicly.”
- Jonas Never, Kryst, Jes, Huero and Ruger (Los Angeles) – North Hollywood
- David Flores (Los Angeles) – Hollywood
- Faith 47 (South Africa) – South Park
- FIN DAC (Ireland) and Angelina Cristina (Venice) – DTLA
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