by TOMMY JARRELL
Spencer McCarty is a visual artist who was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013, after studying copywriting at the University of Missouri — Columbia, and quickly began pursuing a career as an artist.
McCarty’s artwork demonstrates his evident talent as a drawer and painter. His works showcase a bold deployment of color and lines that convey a striking amount of movement. In a 2014 interview with RAW, McCarty accurately describes himself as an “abstract portrait painter.” His paintings largely feature captivating depictions of the female form, animals, celebrities, and other pop culture icons. He has captured the likenesses of Patti Smith, Florence (from Florence in the Machine), SIA, Tupac, James Dean, Biggie, Rick Sanchez, and others in his incredibly stylized paintings.
Since beginning his career as a street artist in 2015, McCarty has crafted over a dozen murals in Los Angeles and also has another that is located outside of a hostel in Santorini, Greece. He has created murals for Volunteers of America Los Angeles (VOALA), Catch LA, the Mid City Arts + Music Festival, and, most recently, Plungerhead Wines.
I have passed the mural exhibited above on my way to and from work for the past two years and it always adds a dose of brightness and exuberance to my day. McCarty’s audacious use of color in this piece makes it feel lively and contemporary. The lady’s blue lips, the purple, pink, and yellow incorporated into her fierce feathered headdress, and the way that they compliment her flowing green hair, quickly made this mural one of my favorites in the city.
There is something illusive about this painting that draws me in and makes me want to live as this fierce chieftain-warrior. Maybe it’s her headdress that appeals to something tribal that lives deep within us all, or her undeniable power and attitude that we all wish we could convey to the rest of the world. What ever it is, I know this is a mural that I keep going back to willingly, regardless of my commute, because it always seems to have something to offer.
Where can you spot this painting?
This painting can be found in Little Armenia, on the northeast corner of Fountain Ave and Edgemont. Other nearby sites and include Square one Dining, the Scientology building, and Made Solid.
by SERGIO GARCIA
Kai Aspire is a native Angeleno. Even though his work is known worldwide and he has been able to put his art up in various cities, including Paris, Miami, and Aspen, Kai has a number of artworks here in Los Angeles. His art critiques our society and sends a very powerful message by using a surprisingly simple style.
Even though this piece looks like one complete mural, I'd argue it's really more like two separate pieces that share a theme--consumerism. And here in Los Angeles, consumerism plays an enormous role in everyday life. As a native Angeleno, Kai Aspire knows this well and has used his art to transmit a very poignant message.
In the bottom left corner, we see a character resembling the average person. Kai Aspire has dubbed this character, IF(Imaginary Friend). We also see that IF is holding onto a heart shaped balloon that is lifting him off the ground. This on its own is heartwarming, representing how love can carry us to new heights. However, IF seems troubled. And it's easy to see why; IF can't be whisked away by love because he's weighed down by a bag of money. Is Kai telling us that in the world we live in, many people seem to be too focused on consumerism to make way for love? Could it be, that for some, buying the latest technology or keeping up with the newest fashion trend doesn't allow them time for love? Or perhaps this piece represents how some are too busy focusing on their careers--chasing the American dream--to let love whisk them off their feet.
Another interpretation is that the high cost of living in Los Angeles, simply doesn't allow people to give in to love. How are we supposed to set aside quality time for our loved ones when the city we live in requires us to work excruciatingly long hours just to survive paycheck to paycheck? The beauty of this piece is that while Kai is clearly telling us that love and money are two priorities that cannot coexist, and that a choice needs to be made as to which is more important, a lot is still left up to our imaginations.
In the center of the mural, Kai has depicted a much more blatant critique of consumerism. Once again, we see IF. This time he's behind bars made up of a barcode. The startled look on IF's face helps us reach the conclusion that his current circumstances came about unexpectedly. In a city where material possessions are idolized, many find themselves imprisoned by this system that promotes consumerism. Kai's piece begs the question: Can IF break out from this confinement? And more importantly, can we ourselves break free from the chains of consumerism?
Where can I see it?
These pieces are on the northwest corner of Western Avenue and 3rd Street, to the left of the main entrance of the Nat King Cole United States Post Office.
by TOMMY JARRELL
Within the last month, two new murals have popped up in East Hollywood thanks to Jerkface, a New York-based street artist. He has three other murals that he's recently completed in LA, but I won't get to those in this post (mostly because I haven't figured out their exact whereabouts yet). His works heavily reference cartoon and comic book characters, frequently blending two or more from different sources. His work is playful, colorful, and intricate. And although he is not necessarily an LA-based artist, a few of his works are now fixed in LA and help to beautify our urban landscape and add an extra dose of intrigue to our neighborhoods.
Exhibit A: Spy vs. Spy
Okay, so this piece isn’t super colorful. It’s largely black and white, staying true to the original nature of the Spy vs. Spy comics created by Antonio Prohías, but this allows the vibrant red bombs and sticks of dynamite to become even more incendiary against the monochromatic backdrop. These spies painted by Jerkface stay true to their original nature with their elongated, beak-like faces and signature wide-brimmed hats and trench coats that harken back to another one of Prhoías’s characters, El Hombre Siniestro.
Instead of just a single white spy versus a single black spy, they have multiplied to effectively fill the whole space. What has been created for us is a battlefield of mischievous spies who are apparently all plotting against one another. My favorite part of this piece is the white spy holding a lone stick of dynamite who cannot be confined to the approximately 10’ x 9’ space that the rest of the spies are confined to, who blurs the borders of our world and this playful, yet cartoonishly dangerous one Jerkface has created.
Where’s the mural?
It’s located at the intersection of Melrose and Heliotrope right next to Gracie’s Pizza and adjacent to LACC. Other nearby places include the Ukrainian Culture Center, The Faculty, Scoops, and Native LA.
Exhibit B: Richie Rich/Casper the Friendly Ghost, a mashup
This piece exhibits Jerkface’s prominent use of bright colors and his propensity to cleverly remix characters from a variety of sources. In this mural, a mixture of brown money bags and blonde-haired, faceless Richies, decked out in suit coats and ubiquitous red bowties, create a pattern that is teeming with vibrance.
Prominently featured in the middle of it all is a single transparent Casper tossing a mystery bag in his hand. Though the colors are bold and the pattern is rich, I must say I find this transparency that Jerkface has achieved here to be the most masterful part of this mural. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, but it looks effortless here.
I love the way that it looks like Casper’s ghostly form could possibly be rising out the centermost Richie’s body. It’s certain that the mural was composed intentionally in this manner and it's an aspect of the painting that makes you wonder: Are Richie and Casper one and the same? Has money robbed Richie of his soul? What do ghosts even use for money? When will our own friendly ghosts step out of their faceless bodies?
Where is this work of art?
This mural can be found on the wall outside of Santa Tire Depot at the intersection of Ardmore and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Also nearby, Tacos Al Pastor.
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.