Mapping Los Angeles

Mapping Los Angeles

-Reporting by Eliza Newman

Several months ago, John Kilduff, of “Let’s Paint T.V.” fame, suggested that Blackstone Gallery do a plein air show. Kilduff hoped that through the combined efforts of various artists taking to the streets of Los Angeles, they could create an impressionist map of the city. Shortly after, Raw Materials Art Supplies gave Kilduff’s idea the push it needed. The L.A.-based art store partnered with The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk to host the inaugural Los Angeles Plein Air Festival, thereby giving birth to Blackstone’s Streetscape show which premiered October 9th.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before,” says Kilduff, gesturing to the grey wall behind him that’s painted with a map of Downtown Los Angeles.  15 paintings are hanging in clusters around the gallery with a few additional works sprinkled throughout the surrounding blocks. That’s how the wall appeared yesterday, but the map has likely already changed.

“The show is almost like a performance piece that revolves around plein air painting,” Blackstone gallery owner, Steven Thomas Higgins, explains the show’s concept. At the show’s opening, John Kilduff, Alex Schaefer, and Cesar Gonzalez were the sole artists contributing works. In the next month, however, a total of seven artists will set to work exploring an 80-block stretch of the city. Their composite map will encompass everything from City Hall to the Bradbury Building, and from the Museum of Contemporary Art to Skid Row.

By the show’s closing night on November 8, Kilduff hopes to see about 100 paintings find their way onto the map. “It looks cool now, but in a couple more weeks it’s really going to be something,” says Kilduff.

Not only will new paintings be added, but paintings will disappear over the course of the month as well. People are invited to purchase works throughout the duration of the show. Much like the buildings of L.A., paintings will be put up and torn down to make way for something new.

“We’ve been getting to know the areas really intimately,” says Higgins.

“We’re going to know every damn corner of this town,” adds Schaefer, one of the project’s founding members. Between Wednesday morning and Thursday night alone, Schaefer painted three new cityscapes to add to the ever-expanding map.

If the high spirits and enthusiasm present in Streetscape carry over for the remainder of the month, Blackstone’s 100-painting goal appears not only achievable but almost easy.

“We’re trying to roll one out every few hours,” says Schaefer. “And because you really need to work with the sunlight, that leaves us with three main chunks of time—sun up to noon, 1 p.m. to sundown, and nighttime.”

What makes this project so compelling, is the fact that there’s no quiet studio with fine-tuned lighting or quiet garden bench. On the contrary, artists have to work amid honking and shouting, all the disquiet inherent in urban life. The project in that sense is two-fold: the artists are creating a visual documentation of the city, while also interacting on a more personal level with the landscape and the city’s inhabitants.

“When I was painting on Broadway around midnight not long ago there was this naked, (transgender) person running around… yelling ‘I’m going to kill your art,’” says Schaefer. “This whole thing’s just been stinky, and crazy, and fun. Even when you’re painting in places you aren’t really supposed to be, people want to stop and watch art being made.”

With its incredibly diverse residents and neighborhoods, Downtown supplies each of the artists with a different experience every time they go out to paint. Likewise, the livelihood and the attitudes of the people watching changes from block to block and hour to hour.

The energy in the process carries through to the vibrancy of the paintings.

“I love this one,” says artist and admirer Gary Brewer, kneeling over one of the cityscapes. “It looks like color splotches, but the color structure and design is so accurate that it moves you back in space into a really amazing moment.”

While the paintings come from different artists, they share a vivacity of broad vertical strokes and brightly colored paints. The soft brush strokes appear as poignantly fleeting as the city itself. Whether depicting a lonesome bridge or a bustling street corner, each painting has a sense of excitement and promise that should be familiar to any Angeleno.

The project strips away concerns of ego and competition—in fact, it’s almost impossible to tell which artist is responsible for each piece. Rather, the artists involved are coming together to capture the spirit of a city undergoing a vast transformation. They’re working together to capture Los Angeles as it is now in this tiny moment of time.


Post Photos Courtesy of Eliza Newman