Los Angeles’ Arts District is densely packed with murals from some of the biggest names in contemporary urban art. It’s a must see if you’re interested in art of any sort, but essential for anyone with even the smallest interest in street art.
The district is, as the name suggests, one of LA’s creative hubs but it has existed long before the current street art zeitgeist of the early 21st century. It has introduced the likes of Beck and Sonic Youth to the world by way of it’s many bars and clubs.
The small neighbourhood on the eastern edge of Downtown LA has experienced a revival of sorts in the last 20 years, with the creativity that once happened mainly in apartments and warehouses behind closed doors, now opened out to visitors.
Galleries, bars, museums and factories now welcome visitors who make the journey to the district, but it’s a very different neighbourhood to the glamour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Backing onto Skid Row with an unbelievable homelessness record, it’s a confusing, gritty and bleak LA issue – one that’s persisted for decades and doesn’t appear to have an imminent solution.
Anyway, history lesson aside, there’s so much to see here. It’s difficult to look anywhere and not see something artistic!
Although when I visited I took the walk through Skid Row to the Arts District, locals advised me against repeating it, particularly in the evening.
Grab an Uber or Lyft to the Arts District – a good starting point is the Container Yard on 800 East 4th Street. You can hit all the sights on foot, before traveling back north west to 6th and Spring.
You can hit all the sights on foot, before traveling back north to take in a couple of really cool pieces around there too.
The Container Yard
Although the yard was closed when I visited (not sure if this is something open on special occasions only) the adjoining Montana Cans shop and gallery was open, and the outside of this setup and the nearby warehouses have plenty of work to check out.
Have a look for some of these spectacular works in and around this area from some big names in the global scene. These are all in the immediate area or on the external walls of the Container Yard, so you’ll definitely want to spend a little while poking around here.
Nip inside the Montana Cans shop and gallery area and you’ll find some changing work inside. There were some standouts inside though, including this piece from Hueman. This particular painting shows the move she’s made from the figurative style that she established over the last few years, into a more abstract sphere.
Nip back out of the shop and gallery and take a left down Seaton Street. The car park behind the Container Yard has space for four massive murals- make sure you take a look in there.
But before that, on the outside edge of the warehouse that the car park sits behind is a spectacular piece from Royyal Dog titled Love Each Other. Incredibly detailed and really something to stand in front of and take in – the gradients and textures on the faces are so smooth it’s hard to believe a spraycan was used to create them.
Next up, the car park. This space seem to be changing fairly frequently, but when I dropped by there’d just been a few new pieces finished including this from Mur0ne.
The vibrant colours and blocky, simplistic design are elements I really enjoy, and no doubt they take inspiration from the LA environment and colour scheme.
Next to this were three other fantastic works, and a few familiar names from my time spent hunting for street art in London.
Although obscured partly by the parked cars, Shok-1’s wall was a typical composition in some ways, with his super realistic x-ray painting, but sitting alongside a much flatter character, an element of his painting I hadn’t previously come across.
Matt Adnate’s figurative paintings catch my eye whenever I come across them in person. The detail of his portraits are really impressive, and this one of Tecumseh Jones, a Native American he spent time some time with, is no different.
Artists working to paint portraits like this are really perfecting the form, and some of the outputs are so realistic it can be difficult to tell whether or not it’s a painting or a photograph pasted up.
Occupying the final space at the time of my visit was another impressive portrait from Nils Westergard – an artist that I hadn’t been aware of before my visit. Only recently finished, it was nice to be one of the first to check this one out.
If it’s still up when you visit, try and get up close to see the techniques he used when painting highlights, very cool. A much different approach to Nils and Matt, as you’ll be able to tell.
Seaton and East 5th Street
Stroll on a little further down Seaton street to the next crossroads for a few more impressive pieces. Most notable when I was there was this trippy, science fiction style mural from Carly Ealey.
On the opposite wall across the street keep an eye our for the work of Vyal One. Defining this piece are the bright colours and mysterious eyes peering out on passers by. I particularly liked how the blocks of paint were guided by the sections of bricks that make up the warehouse building facade.
Take a wander to Traction avenue, diving into the Arts District Brewing Company to grab a snack and some really great beer. Refueled, head onto the intersection with East 3rd Street.
First up another typically vibrant piece from Tristan Eaton – this one a little easier to photograph than his earlier mural on the outside of the Container Yard.
Spin round and you’ll have no doubt spotted an imposing piece from Hueman. Note the difference in style and colour choices here, with it’s more figurative style. Then glance back at any photos you’ve taken at her previous work in the Container Yard.
Her art is really spectacular, and this one dominates this area of the Arts District. A really beautiful bit of work.
While facing Hueman’s work, head round to the right hand side and glance up above Angel City Brewery. Recognise those eyes? Maybe not the eyes themselves, but this enormous paste up is the unmistakable style of photographer and street art heavyweight, JR.
This was just one of a number of large scale paste ups as part of 2011’s Wrinkles of the City project, which aimed to draw attention to the age, wisdom and beauty of the city’s older generation compared with a more superficial, perfectionist outlook of those who’ve grown up in the late 20th and early 21st century.
South Spring and West 6th Street
Grab an Uber or Lyft to the SB Tower and continue this tour, ticking off a few more huge murals that are definitely worth making time for.
First up is Robert Vargas’ monochrome portrait in the SB Tower itself, which overlooks the busy thoroughfare which this next route follows northeast back towards Union Station.
Head past famous bookshop The Last Bookstore, and immediately after it spin round 180 degrees to see this imposing mural from Faith 47 hiding in a small car park.
This piece Who will guard the guards themselves focuses on a philosophical question – who is going to keep those in charge in check?
Painted in 2016 these wild horses (Faith 47 usually paints wild animals in this style) perhaps represent the perception of a runaway and uncontrolled administration currently at the helm in the US?
128 East 3rd Street
Stretch your legs now take a right down West 3rd Street and over onto East 3rd Street. In on the left you’ll catch another mural, in another car park, from David Flores.
This one depicts James Dean from the movie Forever Young in his stained glass window painting style, and was painted for the Downtown Art Walk event.
253 South Main Street
This is the penultimate stop, and possibly my favourite piece on the whole tour – annoyingly I’m in the dark as to who designed and painted this one. Any help gratefully received. I think it might also be a sneaky advert for Stella Artois, which goes some way to explaining why I had a thirst for a beer at this point on my walk!
The playful characters, in a cartoon-like style, bumble around this piece from beach to palm tree lined street in Hollywood. There’s a definite hint of Steamboat Willy – aka early days of Mickey Mouse – in this one!
218 South Spring Street
The final stop is something really different to what I’ve highlighted on this particular tour. This comes from back in 1988 and created by artist Tony Sheets. It’s a relief mural that was created on the outside of the LA Times building, and it charts the evolution of the printing press in the US.
One quote on this reads:
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter” – Thomas Jefferson, 1787.
A bit of a thinker to finish on!
There’s plenty more to see outside of this specific tour. One thing I would say is plan on exploring the arts district for quite a while. I certainly missed a number of other really outstanding pieces due to time.
So bank on spending a good few hours walking around, and don’t be put off by the neighbourhood’s surrounding areas.
If you use this, or any of my other street art tours, please give me a shout on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with your shots. Always interested to see what people have spotted, and what has changed since I wrote the tour!