Within the past week, LA has been gifted two beautiful pieces of public art that, in some ways, could not be more different from each other, but that both embody a huge spirit of generosity by the artists who created them.
In the middle of the urban streetscape, in Echo Park, artist and instructor Katrina Alexy gave nearly six months of her own time sitting on a sidewalk on Logan Street, wearing a huge straw hat and piecing together a colorful mosaic mural to celebrate the Echo Park Farmers Market and the healthy foods that can be found there. She used thousands of vintage tiles that were otherwise destined for the landfill. She enlisted the help of the neighbors to create new fruit-themed tiles for the various medallions that were incorporated into the design. She made friends every day she was there, getting to know the passersby, including people that brought her gifts of corn and cushions to sit on as well as words of wisdom, encouragement and thanks. Regular visitors included kids and abuelitas, the well-to-do and the homeless and everyone in between. Even Erykah Badu stopped by one day. When the mural was finished, it was celebrated last week with a very public unveiling on the day of the farmers market and included speeches by the artist along with city councilman Mitch O’Farrell and other local notables. A mariachi band added to the party atmosphere.
More on the mural can be found on the Eastsider “Close Encounters of the Echo Park Kind”.
Just three days later, a rogue band of anonymous artists pulled off an amazing caper, installing a lovingly-crafted, Japanese-inspired tea house tucked into a nook in Griffith Park. The structure was built off-site, over a period of more than 6 months, by skilled artists, designers and wood workers. It was erected without permission, under cover of night – but by the light of a full moon – on top of an existing concrete foundation that had been left unused for years. The materials the tea house was built from, very much of the place itself, were considered waste – remnants of trees burned in the 2007 Griffith Park fire as well as felled redwood trees destined for the mulch pile. They were removed from the park when they were considered trash and then returned to the park as beautiful objects that together create a structure much greater than the sum of its parts. The opening ceremony, a sunrise tea service and opera performance, was attended by a small, intimate group of invitees. Sadly, there is already talk of park officials removing the unsanctioned structure, despite how well and how immediately it has been embraced by the community of people who spend time in the park and by the city at large.
I made no contribution to either project, but I am proud to call the artists who created these amazing pieces my friends. I am grateful to them for their generosity and hard work as well as their vision and creativity. I share their love of Los Angeles and am awed by their commitment to make it a better place for all of us who share this city.
I hope you will visit both pieces of art, to enjoy them and pay respect to those who create them. Then consider ways in which you personally can contribute to our big, messy, confusing and vibrant city. Everyone has gifts to share, no matter how large or small; they all add up into a better place for us to call home.