The Evolution of Street Art in LA
Over the past 15 years, Los Angeles real estate investment has boomed. As Silicon Valley spills over into the coastal areas of the city, and L.A.’s central business districts expand, investors have tried to capitalize on swaths of the city left untouched for decades. But this valuable real estate also holds another significance to the city’s street artists. Since the 1970s, street artists – from muralists to graffiti artists – have tried to “maintain real estate.” Whether protecting giant murals from small but marring graffiti tags, to ensuring giant “bombs” are not whitewashed by city or state authorities, L.A.’s street-art scene has battled to preserve its representation of the city’s civic life.
Building on these themes for this lecture and discussion, muralist and Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) co-founder Judy Baca will present on the transformation of L.A.’s storied mural and graffiti art scenes. Known best for her work, The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1976–83), Baca will also lead a conversation with the Brooklyn-based street artist Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) and graffiti artist Saber to explore the roles graffiti and mural art plays in representing marginalized communities in a quickly gentrifying city.
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Judy Baca is an artist, educator, scholar, activist and community arts pioneer. One of America’s leading visual artists Baca has been creating public art for four decades. Beginning with the awareness that the land has memory, she creates art that is shaped by an interactive relationship of history, people, and place. Baca’s public artworks focus on revealing and reconciling diverse and historically disenfranchised peoples’ struggles for their rights – including women, the working poor, youth, the elderly, and immigrant communities – and affirm the connections of each community to place. Her most well-known work is the Great Wall of Los Angeles. Located in San Fernando Valley, the mural spans a half-mile and still is a work in progress, engaging more than 400 youth and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds, artists, oral historians, and scholars. In 2017, the mural received recognition from the National Registry of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In 1974, Baca founded the City of Los Angeles’ first mural program, which produced over 400 murals and employed thousands of local participants. It has since evolved into an arts organization known as the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). She continues to serve as SPARC’S artistic director and focuses her creative energy in the UCLA@SPARC Digital/Mural Lab, employing digital technology to promote social justice and participatory public arts projects. She is an emeritus Professor of UCLA, where she was a senior professor in Chicana/o Studies and World Art and Cultures Departments from 1980 until 2018. She is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the United States Artist Rockefeller Fellowship, and over 50 awards from various community groups.
As a 13-year-old in 1989, Saber encountered the Belmont Tunnel in Los Angeles and immediately became obsessed with graffiti. In 1994, just after his induction into the storied L.A. graffiti crews AWR (All Writes Reserved) and MSK (Mad Society Kings), Saber painted the 100-foot-long façade of a railroad bridge across Interstate 5, standing on a six-inch ledge while traffic passed below. In 1997, after 97 gallons of paint and 35 nighttime missions spread over the course of a year, Saber cemented his place in graffiti history with a full-color piece the size of a football field on the banks of the Los Angeles River. In 1998, he moved to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute where he executed his first letter-based metal sculptures. Now based in L.A., Saber continues to show his studio-based painting and sculpture practice that mixes lettering and futuristic city nightscapes, and has spent the past decade actively traveling and painting in cities around the world.
Caledonia Curry – whose work appears under the name Swoon – is a Brooklyn-based artist and is widely known as the first woman to gain large-scale recognition in the male-dominated world of street art. Callie took to the streets of New York while attending the Pratt Institute of Art in 1999, pasting her…
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