If you live in L.A. it’s not a foreign sight: a discarded refrigerator on a street corner, a worn-out sofa that's been kicked to the curb, a mattress with grim adoption prospects leaning against a building. If you live in Koreatown, however, you may approach household detritus with hopeful glee: Might this old, broken television have a frowny face? A bowtie? A hat?
Over the last year, an anonymous artist who goes by the name Lonesome Town has turned other people's trash into trash that can be painted on. He adorns rejected, outmoded household items with his signature: the face of a cartoonish crying clown.
Lonesome Town's work has become a source of delight and debate for locals. Walking their dogs, residents of Koreatown and Silver Lake scour cross-streets for televisions and stools, gas cans and paint spills — inspecting otherwise overlooked items in a delightful urban treasure hunt.
“There’s something beautifully tragic about it,” says M., the anonymous artist behind Lonesome Town. “There’s no consequence to this thing you loved being pushed outside and forgotten.”
The project was born when M. found himself experiencing a moment of empathy — for a fridge. “I had just gotten back from Spain and I happened to see a [forgotten] refrigerator. I felt like it was just sadly staring back at me. This thing that was utilized on a daily basis, an integrated part of somebody’s family … just abandoned,” M. recalls.
He couldn’t walk past without doing something: “The first day I just did a face on it. Then the next day it was still there. I added buttons. And polka dots. And sure enough, I came back the third day and put a hat on it. It makes me so happy because I feel nobody cares about these micro sad thingies.”
Lonesome Town takes to the streets with nothing more than a corduroy backpack full of paint pens. “I don’t go looking for a couch or set of chairs. I bike around until I see something that moves me,” he says. He then parks himself there for anywhere between 10 and 90 minutes anthropomorphizing the oversized items. “There’s no denying that it’s an inanimate object with a sad face. It’s kinda ridiculous,” M. says. “I feel like the humor is just as important as the sad sentiment — a weird little level playing field between the two.”
Perhaps people didn’t care about these mini-tragedies before, but they’re starting to. When a Lonesome Town piece appears, it won’t last 20 minutes on the street. Hashtags like #sadclown and #sadcouch populate the internet, along with pictures of his installations. Someone even started an Instagram account tracking the clowns.
The man behind Lonesome Town is actually a fine artist who sells his work by commission and who was formerly employed by Warner Bros.; the furniture clowns are free pieces of art by someone who normally charges handsomely. But he isn’t doing it for the money or the glory — this is one art project he does just for joy. “It’s liberating!” M. says.
Even though it's anonymous, this may be his buzziest project yet. And M. is trying to use it for good. His sad clowns now crop up on lost-dog posters and homeless people’s panhandling signs so passersby are more likely to notice them. Like the forgotten TV, he wants people to pay attention to “the sad stuff people don’t even see when they walk by.”
Unpaid and anonymous, Lonesome Town is an L.A. native’s contribution to the landscape of his hometown.
“I feel like the city has become an integrated part of [the installations],” M. says. “The background is a character within the city.” Beyond highlighting the furniture itself, M. draws attention to urban beauty by dragging his piece of choice to the perfect backdrop. If you see a quirkily dressed man with a corduroy backpack lugging a funky couch across hot pavement, you just might want to follow him. As his Instagram says, he’s on his way to spread “enchanting sadness.”
Lonesome Town’s work in on Instagram at @LonesomeTown9.