There’s always been a clear but, perhaps to some, fine line between street art and vandalism. Graffiti has been used for generations as a way of making bold statements, whether in support of a cause or an expression of identity, sometimes as art and sometimes as a mark of aggression.
It was the British-based artist Banksy, one of the most prominent figures in Street Art, who catapulted this art form during a modern cultural renaissance.
I can still vividly recall the day I started working in Downtown Los Angeles. The wanderer in me just wanted to look at architectural marvels — the historical buildings along South Broadway. At that time, South Broadway was still figuring out what to do with the “old” while widely embracing the “new”. There were lots of unkept areas, and yet across the street was a new hipster coffee shop or the diet fad-inspired restaurant.
On a cold December night, I was strolling along South Broadway heading north, when I passed a well-lit parking area. On its wall, in bold red lettering was written: “PARKING”. As I clutched my hands in my leather jacket for warmth, the wit of the parking sign made me smirk. The last three letters of the word (ING) were slightly painted over, but just faint enough that one could still read the word “parking” clearly. Inside the letter “A”, the illustration of a rope swing started. Below the same letter showed an image of a young girl on a swing, as if she were captured in mid-movement, her hair being blown back…on a swing at the park.
It was subtle but clever. I love playing on words, and especially art that does so.
When I first saw that artwork, I had no idea who created it. All I can remember was the feeling of being captivated by it. It was so quietly smart; it spoke volumes.
As I have started to admire the Street Art movement, I have been actively on the look-out for new pieces. Every new find is exciting, always motivating me to discover “who dunnit”. I find it equally saddening, though, when a piece suddenly disappears. Maybe the uncertainty and impermanence add to the enigma of Street Art, which contributes to people’s appreciation for the art form.
Nevertheless, I was saddened when the intersection of South Broadway and Olympic Avenue became a massive construction project. Banky’s Parking piece was in jeopardy, now covered by safety materials. Every time I passed the area, I wondered if there was any way they would or could salvage the piece. I was anxious, pessimistic about the idea that I’d ever see it again. Though, knowing how valuable the art piece is or at least the value it adds to the building gave me some hope.
A year went by and the construction complete. There’s a massive apartment complex with a high-end furniture and home decor store that now sits on the block.
It is with mixed emotions to see Banky’s Parking piece still exhibits on the same wall. Relieved to know it was not demolished, but disheartened that it is now an amenity of the gated apartment complex, fenced and watched over by closed-circuit security cameras.
I’m glad it is still there, but it feels like the piece has lost what it stood for. It has become an outdoor art piece for a high-end living area. A victim of renovation and gentrification, a move toward the opposite of nature. Not a park at all. Rather, luxurious living in an area where rent is now astronomical and homelessness has become a grave social problem.