Looking up from their grilled chicken salads at downtown's Cafe Metropole, the midday diners may feast their eyes upon scenes far more stark: paintings of a homeless man cowering in an alley; of middle-aged men staring over their shoulders, wrists cuffed and faces betraying emotions of fear, despair or surface toughness; and of a person swinging plastic shopping bags in a strange dance as bystanders smile. The works are part of an exhibition called "Central Bureau: Land of the Cobra" by Daniel Calderon, an artist who is also a Los Angeles police officer working South-Central's Newton Division.
For Calderon, rendering images from the evening's beat in black-and-white acrylics has served as a stress reliever, and as a respite from his professional world.
"I don't know if lucky is the right word," says Calderon, a 14-year LAPD veteran, "but most people don't get the chance to see people in that kind of a light. They kind of zip by without having the security of being able to stop and look at what's going on. They're afraid of looking at other people for fear of being attacked, hurrying from one place to another with their heads down."
Calderon discovered his talent 11 years ago in an art class while posing as a high school student in an undercover narcotics unit. He sketched mostly in charcoals until he found himself one of the 77th Division officers ordered to abandon the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues on the first day of the 1992 riots. He decided to commemorate the debacle on canvas.
"Sometimes I'm just sitting on stakeout for hours and staring down an alley thinking, 'Wow, that's a beautiful landscape,' and I start thinking, 'Well, maybe something's wrong with me,' " Calderon says. "Newton is supposed to be one of the ugliest areas in the city . . . but to me, I think a lot of it is pretty cool-looking."
Calderon's "Central Bureau: In the Land of the Cobra" is being shown through the end of April at Cafe Metropole. The artist will donate all proceeds from the sale of his canvasses to the Police Memorial Fund. Information: (213) 613-1537.