Los Angeles: An Alternative Art Tour

Los Angeles art
DTLA Arts District. Photography by Marcel Nawrath

Los Angeles has been experiencing a boom in its art scene with a constant influx of New Yorkers, and blue chip galleries opening spaces there including Berlin’s Sprüth Magers. But historically the art that has made an impact on the lives LA residents has been the alternative art present in many street corners. Sleek met Lizy Dastin an art history professor at UCLA and founder of Art and Seeking to discuss the history of creativity in LA and the city’s emerging artists, galleries and art neighbourhoods.

Sleek: What’s the history of the art we can find in the streets of Los Angeles?
Lizy Dastin: LA has had a long and significant relationship with street art. During the 1930s in the wake of the Great Depression, the government would sponsor artists, including Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros to create sanctioned mural work in outdoor public spaces to convey their national message to the public and act as forms of expression. The imagery was explosive, containing aggressive messages, which eventually resulted in whitewashing. The mural, Tropical America by Siqueiros, became an illustrative case study about governmental censorship.

Over time, the city’s relationship with art on the street has deepened and developed. Los Angeles once relied on the fringes of the “mainstream Manhattan-centric” art world; however, Shepard Fairey a public face of street art, a resident and a tenacious local activist, helped the city prove itself to be the epicentre of the genre.

Los Angeles art
Photography by Marcel Nawrath
Los Angeles Art
Photography by Marcel Nawrath


Los Angeles art
Photography by Marcel Nawrath

For a long time alternative art and graffiti were not respected as “real” art. However, today it is. Why do you think this has changed?
I think graffiti and street art, which generally function in non-traditional spaces, are seen as unconventional to the traditional art world. During the 1980s, when Haring and Basquiat took to the streets to give a voice to local communities who were plagued by rampant drug use and suffering from HIV and AIDS, they were initially met with dismissive skepticism. Then over time gentrification happened and what was once seen as derelict is now trendy…

Who are the most influential street artists in LA and beyond?
Influential is a tricky word. To me, the artists from LA who have made the most impact on the scene are the ones who have worked the longest and pushed themselves the hardest while evolving their style to authentically reflect society and themselves. Some examples include: RISK, JR, Swoon, Vhils, Shepard Fairey, Seen, Osgemeos, El Mac and Lady Pink.

Which up-and-coming LA artists should we watch out for?
Colette Miller, Thrashbird, Christina Angelina, IMHUGE, Lolo, Mikael Brandrup, John Park, Plastic Jesus and Paige Smith.

What LA neighbourhoods would you say are the most interesting to see?
The DTLA Arts District, the Melrose Area, Rampart by the Gabba Gallery, Abbot Kinney and my apartment since I’ve been collecting street art for years (just kidding on the last one!)

And the most interesting galleries for alternative art in LA?
The Gabba Gallery, Cave Gallery, Art Share and Stone Malone are all incredibly friendly and supportive of alternative.

los angeles
Lizy Dastin. Photography by Marcel Nawrath


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