Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[Staglevision] waking in banksy's la

Dear friends and readers,

In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, British graffiti artist Banksy swept through LA with a unique campaign to promote his Oscar-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The day of the Oscars, Tyrrell and I embarked on a nine-hour odyssey to photograph ten new pieces of Banksy art. Our expedition took us from downtown to Malibu, through all different neighborhoods of LA.

1. Caution, Fun Sign #1: East Cesar E Chavez Avenue & Pleasant Ave
Parodying the signs warning drivers of immigrant families sprinting across the highway, Banksy's Caution, Fun depicts the sprinting family holding a kite. The two signs were strategically placed in neighborhoods with large Mexican populations.

We arrived not knowing where to look, what to expect. "Do you know where we can find the Banksy graffiti art?" Two garage mechanics told us it had been tagged and painted over the day before. "Yesterday there were a bunch of people here taking photos," they said. "Who is Banksy?" We'd missed the piece by one day. And so the clock started ticking.
2. Caution, Fun Sign #2: 2446 E 1st St and Soto
A Mexican guy with a lollipop and a bag of laundry slung over his shoulder showed us where the piece had been cut from the wall. "That landlord never fixes anything," he said, nodding to the adjacent building. "But when the guys on that Clint Eastwood pic told him it was valuable, he took it down right away. I bet he kept it. It's not even his building!"

"I bet they only steal them on the east side," I told Tyrrell.
"On the west side, they paint over them," Tyrrell said. "Who's smarter?"
3. Crayon Foreclosure: 1547 E Washington Blvd
Here's how to spot a Banksy: look for hipsters snapping pictures. Once you make it through the cluster of plaid shirts and skinny jeans, the reveal will take your breath away. This was our first Banksy, shielded in Plexiglass by some kind soul. "I'm working here on a shoot tomorrow," a woman said. "I can't believe it's right here."
4. Wall Art in Parking Lot: S Broadway & W 9th St
During our hunt, I found myself doing things I hadn't done in a long time. I climbed a tree downtown to photograph a Banksy piece on the roof of a building. I did it partly to impress Tyrrell, but also because the hunt renewed an exuberance and a sense of adventure I hadn't felt in a long time. Nestled in the tree, dirt streaking my jeans, I felt like anything could happen.
5. Valero Monkey: S La Brea Ave & Melrose
Tyrrell called me on the road. "I found one," she said. "I found a Banksy." While she posed before the wall imitating the monkey's hunch, a man walked by with his boy. "That's a piece by a very famous street artist," the man told his son.
6. Banksy Oscar Homage by Mr. Brainwash: S La Brea Ave & Dockweiler St
Even before we saw Mr. Brainwash's name scrawled in white paint beside the piece, we knew it wasn't a Banksy. The man would never place himself on an Oscar statuette. And what's with the Stormtroopers, anyway?
7. Charlie Brown Firestarter: Sunset and La Cienega
Goodbye, the board said. Goodbye, with kisses. The piece cut from the wall of the burned-out building featured Charlie Brown with a gas tank and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  It reportedly sold on eBay for $8000.
8. Pissing Dog: Camp JEM, Beverly Hills
So many of the Banksy pieces had been stolen or defaced that we were anxious to see how Beverly Hills would respond to its Banksy. When we arrived at Camp JEM's parking lot, we found that a security guard had been posted on site. A security guard to protect a dog whose piss arced over the concrete wall.

"Who hired you?" I asked. "Was it the city? The landlord?"
"I don't know," he said. "I just got a call."

The guard gave the place an air of formality. Someone had hauled in a toilet with the words Photos Here. It was safe and touristy. It was Beverly Hills.
9. Crayon Shooter: Glendon Ave & Kinross Ave
In the alleyway behind Urban Outfitters, the Crayon Shooter had been defaced and then restored. Gray paint smeared the green wall like smog. UCLA students on the hunt asked us if we'd seen others. Veterans of the scene, we shared our pictures with them and told stories from our day around the city. We hammed it up in front of the camera.
10. Elephant Water Tower: Between Channel and Temescal
Dusk fell. We ran along Pacific Coast Highway, cars whizzing by at 80 miles per hour. Tyrrell, motherly, kept telling me to stay out of the street. Running through the brush with the sun setting behind me, I felt a rush of excitement. At any moment, the elephant would appear.
Banksy's canvases are stolen space, yet the beauty and renown of his work often increases the value of the properties he vandalizes. He entrusts his art to public spaces. They're left to us--unprotected, ultimately accessible--and what becomes of them is a reflection of our communities. The art Tyrrell and I encountered that day was stolen, tagged up, defaced, and painted over. It was photographed, guarded, discussed, and protected. The work provoked different reactions from different neighborhoods. Oftentimes, our access was limited by the owners of the surfaces Banksy altered, complicated by the fame of the artist himself. Banksy's art made the city a little less familiar. It renewed LA's magic and proved that there is still much to be discovered.

Our treasure map:

Our full photo set:

Till soon,

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