by TOMMY JARRELL
The Seventh Letter, a Los Angeles based art crew, has left a heavy-handed impression on the walls of East Hollywood. Their work is so prolific in this neighborhood that it feels as if they are responsible for nearly every other mural you see. Their Parisian born graffiti artist, Sebastien Walker, is responsible for at least three of these murals and many other captivating works in the greater LA area. Within the last year Walker debuted his solo collection, “The Smoking Fish,” at The Seventh Letter’s Gallery over on Fairfax Avenue. Walker’s works tend to feature quizzical, even surreal characters that are brought to life by his expressive line work and bold use of color. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at those three East Hollywood works and telling you exactly where you can find them.
The first of Walker’s East Hollywood works that I’m going to dive into features five very charming characters: a coyote, a cat, a rat, a vulture, and a small blue bird. The first four characters are economically stacked one on top of the next, while the bug-eyed blue bird flits above their heads. The coyote who is bearing the weight of three other animals seems to be so beside himself in laughter, or pain, that he has been moved to tears. The cat seemingly stares at the rat upon its shoulders, with a blazing thumb, with loving admiration, while the stoney-eyed vulture perched on the rat’s head seems to be too cool for the whole thing.
I love this mural for its whimsy and because it deftly shows Walker’s ability to create multiple compelling characters even when space is at a premium. In the real, cold-hearted wilderness of Los Angeles, the coyote would most definitely eat the cat, or the mouse, or even the small bird. And the cat would most likely make quick work of the rat that it stares at longingly, or even the tiny bluebird that nervously flits over all of them. But in the world Walker has painted for us, these real world concerns disappear and everyone is seemingly able to get along.
Where can you find it?
You can find this piece by Sebastien Walker on the northwest corner of Melrose and Normandie outside of I & A Liquor.
Walker’s second piece that I’m going to cover is a collaborative piece that he did with another Seventh Letter artist by the name of DAME. This piece is tucked away in a back alley and feels as though maybe it should be. The prominent feature of this mural are the overlapping letters “SBSTN” and “DAME” which are a clear nod to the artists who created this lively work of art. The letters shift from one imitative fashion print to another as the letters overlap, switching between animal prints, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton-style patterns that make this mural feel like it could be the backdrop for an underground hip-hop video.
This piece is populated with characters that have a bit more edge than the first piece and they clearly have an appetite for partying. There are more rats, a giraffe, a very hip and regal cockatoo, a snake, a gun-toting monkey, some sparsely dressed women, a pot-smoking octopus (that is now covered by some overgrown ivy), and some possibly sketchy dudes pushing shopping carts in its bottom corners.
While the edge in this piece is more acute, it feels playfully subversive, and never overwhelmingly dangerous. The pink-eyed man in the bottom left corner who is casually smoking a blunt as he pushes a shopping cart full of empty bottles destined to be recycled, emulates a sight commonly seen by Angelenos on a daily basis. The other gentleman, wearing a Dodgers hat in the bottom right corner, seems a bit more questionable given that he has what appears to be an incapacitated woman in his cart, but he seems too goofy to be threatening, and we as consumers of this piece don’t know enough about his circumstances to draw any real judgements. Even the malice of the gun held by the monkey is deflated as it deploys a banner, not bullets, which signal the year of this mural’s birth. The celebratory “GOOD BEER” blimp that floats above the characters in this mural is a nod to another common LA sighting and is a tiny detail that gives us a point of access into this cartoonish world that somewhat resembles our own.
Well where is it, you ask?
At the southeast corner of Melrose and Heliotrope, in the alley behind Gracie’s Pizza.
The final piece I’m going to cover by Sebastien Walker is the most recent and is probably my personal favorite. This, like the second piece, is incredibly busy, but admirable for what it accomplishes in a very limited amount of space. In this mural, the action and individual characters are less distinct and more abstract, but are equally as compelling as any of the characters in any of Walker’s other East Hollywood paintings.
In this work there's a bounty of bulging eyeballs, tongues unfurling from mouths and other undisclosed orifices, and tails with no apparent origins that appear and then disappear into open mouths. This mural is almost dizzying if you try to figure out its beginnings and endings. It can be like an out-of-towner trying to figure out where one Angeleno neighborhood ends and the next begins—it’s nearly impossible. But that doesn’t make it any less mesmerizing.
Walker’s bold use of blues, yellows, and reds really pop when contrasted by the yellow brick wall that it’s featured on. The eyes, mouths, and noses, though intricately tangled, are all incredibly expressive and pique our interest for that very reason. And it’s important to recognize that we, as humans, have the capacity to feel just as mixed up and jumbled as Walker’s creatures in this painting.
So where is it?
The north side of Beverly, between North Ardmore and Kingsley, outside of Hana Auto Service.
by TOMMY JARRELL
You don’t have to spend much time in Los Angeles to recognize that it is home to a rich and vibrant art scene. The city is home to dozens of wonderful museums and galleries dedicated to traditional, visual arts. But it also features an eclectic mix of critically acclaimed restaurants that are being led by inventive chefs into new, exciting territory. LA has been home to a colorful literary community that is full of witty, weird, and poignant writers who can adeptly frame the world in words. Because of LA’s identity as a mecca for entertainment, it’s not surprising that it is also home to an array of musicians, actors, and other performing artists who have reached varying degrees of fame and success. By simply walking, biking, or even driving around the city, it’s apparent that LA has an abundance of talented street artists who have decorated its many walls with vibrant, captivating murals for our amusement.
Now, while The Art Exhibit LA will sometimes cover museums and their exhibits, or culinary ventures, performances, or events related to literary arts, I primarily want to use this as a platform to highlight and uplift some of LA’s talented street artists who help contribute to the city’s charm and character. When I first moved to LA, the ever-present murals, graffiti, and street art helped me to orient myself and form an intimate connection with my new home.
It is my hope that The Art Exhibit will help reshape how people feel about art and their relationship to it. Art, especially street art, is something that is incredibly democratic and accessible to people from all walks of life. You do not need an arts degree to appreciate it, nor do you need to clear out an entire afternoon to visit a museum to experience good art, though that is something I enjoy and encourage other people to do when they have the opportunity. In Los Angeles you can increasingly have encounters with quality art by walking to the bodega, jogging around your neighborhood, or visiting a bar or cafe that features the works of local artists.
My point is, consuming art can and should be fun. Art can be comical, whimsical, and transformative. A good work of art can transport us, even if only briefly, to a new world that we could have never imagined on our own. Art allows us to see into the mind and imagination of another human, and to connect with them through their passionate work. And if done well art has the power to stimulate our minds, nurture our souls, and teach us something about ourselves, and aren’t we as Angelenos fortunate to have a wealth of it?
Tommy Jarrell is a poet, writer, and artist who lives in Los Angeles. He has previously written for Bleacher Report and Throwback. His poems have appeared in The Squaw Valley Review and 805.