Los Angeles isn’t within city break distance like many of my other self-guided tours. Some might even argue that it’s not even as “well-known” for street art as some of its European counterparts. But, that’s a one-sided viewpoint of those this side of the Atlantic.
Find yourself in the right parts of this mind-melting urban sprawl, though, and the urban art hunter in you will be richly rewarded.
My recent trip to the west coast saw me fall in love with LA – an affair that was no doubt cemented when spending time hunting in the amazing Venice Beach area.
In between living out my own Big Lebowski dream and skating badly on the boardwalk (“yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man…”) I mapped out some of the best of what I saw to share it with you here.
A short history lesson
In 2003 LA city council had finished putting in place a “mural moratorium” in an attempt to regulate commercial billboards in neighbourhoods marked out for single-family homes.
Although this legislation was aimed at calling a halt to corporate ads, it was urban artists who found themselves in a sticky spot, with fewer and fewer legal spots to paint.
Now with the moratorium at an end (it was scrapped in 2013) artists and property owners now have a free reign, relatively speaking, to decorate their buildings how they like. Without knowing the exact ins and outs, it feels like Venice might not have been quite so colourful had I visited in that 10 year period.
1. Pacific Avenue and 21st
Gretta Kruesi‘s barrel at the north end of Venice Beach is the starting point for this tour, set on the gable end of a small apartment building just off Pacific Avenue.
It’s a tough spot to photograph without a car or van in front (see above) but I loved the fact this wall had a hint of impressionism and a window slap bang in the middle which somehow adds to the piece, rather than detracting from it.
2. Windward Avenue – Jonas Never
Grab your photo of the famous Venice sign then stop to admire Jonas Never’s wall, harking back to an easier time on the boardwalk. The wall is a take on Hollywood legend Orson Welles’ 1958 film “Touch of Evil” and pays tribute to Venice history, culture and film.
“It’s in that part of Venice Beach where you get a cross-section of America,” Never told Venice Path. “Locals, tourists, homeless and artists come through here and all of them had different takes on the mural and what should be there.”
Touch of Evil’s opening sequence was filmed along Windward and Pacific Avenue, which is regarded as one of the best tracking shots in cinema history.
3. 108 Brooks Avenue – The Art of Chase
We’re now heading towards Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a long stretch of independent stores, vegan restaurants and juice bars, but also home to some special urban art.
Before that, 3 pieces in quick succession you should look to check out.
First up Belgian artist now living in LA, The Art of Chase. Known for his quirky and humorous paintings that “aim to disrupt daily lives” and the psychedelic, graphic, and positive aesthetic of his art. These clean lines and bold colour palette really do add to the plain urban landscape around this area.
4. Royal Court and Brooks Avenue – L7m / Tarsila Schubert
L7M’s graffiti inspired technique combined with figurative style make for a really interesting clash. Meanwhile Schubert’s playful shapes, and bold colour choices stick out in a sea of grey and beige architecture to throw some life into the space between the beachfront and Abbot Kinney.
5. 1107 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Vhils
Vhils‘ style is truly unique. It’s a word bandied around too easily, but can be applied without accusations of exaggeration.
This is one of the first pieces you’ll meet along Abbot Kinney Boulevard – drilled and etched into the side of Junk Food – and it’s a great example of output from mPortugal’s finest urban artist.
The idea of breaking the facade in order to build something beautiful is quite poetic, and one that I really like. Get an idea of the unusual process in this short video, filmed on location.
6. 1121 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Alex Yanes
Miami’s Alex Yanes is an artist I’m looking forward to checking out more of. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this was the first time I’d come across his work.
An excellent blend of slick font, graphic design and character work, this piece in collaboration with artist supporting streetwear brand Rag & Bone, hits the spot. Drop by in the evening and you’ll find the piece lit up which makes for a nice photo.
7. 1219 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Isabelle Gorilla
Isabelle Lago, also more commonly known on the street art circuit as Isabelle Gorilla, let’s her laid back gorilla’s remind everyone that it’s better to be relaxed about your appearance, and let it all hang out.
In a city where image is so important, her gorilla’s embody the spirit of Venice’s laid back, don’t give a f**k attitude.
Isabelle explains that her gorillas are “oblivious to conformity[…]greeting you with genuine self-confidence, despite their large hairy bodies and prominent nostril”.
8. Aragon Court – Dogtown by Never Jaber
Dogtown and Z Boys inspired mural from Never Jaber is a celebration of a different side of Venice’s story – the Zephyr skateboard team of the 1970s and the evolving sport of skateboarding.
Make sure to check this one out to get a feel for recent Venice skating and cultural history.
9. 1239 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Greg Mike
The paint had barely dried on this mural from Greg Mike when I dropped by. Like L7M’s clash of style, Greg Mike’s mural throws together crisp, sharp lines, characters and a badass bear in one of the best murals in the area.
Mixing classic NYC street art with “the eagle-eyed precision of mass market illustration” his paintings, and this one especially, capture your attention for being completely wild, a little unsettling, while retaining a cheeky edge.
10. 1302 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Alexis Diaz
Legendary gay bar Roosterfish is now adorned with a more literal interpretation of it’s namesake thanks to the handy work of illustrator Alexis Diaz.
Known for his precision painting – make sure to get up really close to admire the intricate and delicate lines – and dreamlike, fantasy creatures, the Roosterfish bar serves as the perfect inspiration for Diaz. It feels like these two were really made for each other.
11. 1301 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Vardagen
Vardagen’s pop up shop has now left Abbot Kinney for good, but this mural which I believe is still there, is worth a look. I’m not 100% on the artist (still waiting to here back from Vardagen to give them full credit) but I liked this simple illustrated piece for its classic green and pink colour combo, and for sticking out as something a little bit different on the boulevard.
12. Milwood Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Louis Masai
This is the final stop of this tour, but make sure to meander around the Venice Beach area as there’s still plenty more to be found.
Louis Masai‘s piece makes for a great finale though, and probably my top pick of all the Venice Beach artwork. I was really impressed by the technique applied by Masai to create an LA Cougar almost stitched together by a patchwork of local landmarks (eg Interstate 101) and Latin inspired patterns.