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L.A. THEN AND NOW

Guerrilla art in the Southland: Remember Pink Lady?

Artists with something to say put their mark on L.A. -- welcome or not. Among the creations: a giant stamp, a 'sea monster' and the naked 60-foot woman above Malibu Canyon Road.

November 22, 2009|By Steve Harvey
  • A painting of a nude, pink woman appeared in 1966 above Malibu Canyon Road. Authorities soon declared it a traffic hazard.
A painting of a nude, pink woman appeared in 1966 above Malibu Canyon Road.… (Los Angeles Times )

All the world's an art gallery to some folks -- no matter what City Hall says.

Just the other day an 18-foot-tall dinner fork was set in concrete in a Pasadena traffic median by conspirators wearing fake Caltrans uniforms and hard hats.

Yes, a true fork in the road.

The utensil was a 75th birthday present from artist Ken Marshall to his friend Bob Stane, an area coffeehouse/showroom owner.

Marshall didn't ask permission to put it there, so Pasadena is pondering whether to allow it to stand for a while or ask Stane to take his gift home.

Given the Southland's offbeat reputation, it should come as no surprise that guerrilla art has a long tradition here. The creators' motives, of course, vary.

Don't try to lick it

The "inefficiency" and high rates of the U.S. Postal Service led La Crescenta artist Mike Wallace to create a giant 1-cent concrete stamp, complete with a visage of Thomas Jefferson, in 1979. He delivered it to the parking lot of the postal service's Terminal Annex in downtown L.A.

Wallace confessed to the caper a day later, after police seized the 6-foot-by-7-foot stamp and took it to the property division of Parker Center. (Luckily, it had no adhesive on the back.)

Wallace, who had originally constructed the postal designation as an art project at Cal State Northridge, marveled at how he and his confederates were able to deposit it so easily.

"We were wearing hard hats and fluorescent vests so we would look official," he said. "I even had a clipboard."

Wallace offered to take back the 800-pound stamp if no criminal or towing charges were assessed. The authorities agreed, apparently relieved to get it off their hands.

Explained one police spokesman: "It's actually federal property."

Whereabouts of the giant stamp are unknown. Perhaps it's in someone's giant stamp album.

Wild thing

It wasn't exactly moviedom's "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

But Department of Water and Power employees were surprised one morning in 1974 to find a strange intruder in a reflecting pool outside the agency's building in the downtown L.A. Civic Center.

The Times' Patt Morrison described the object as "a three-pronged, serpentine, green bronze, hollow beanstalk topped by orange and yellow translucent lotuses which alternately lighted up and spouted water."

It wasn't alive; it was battery-operated.

Artist Wade Cornell eventually owned up to being the creator and explained he wanted to "give the people something they can relate to in the downtown area with no explanation necessary, instead of those formless things people look at and say, 'What's that?' "

Still, some people said "What's that?" about Cornell's work, with employees likening it to a sea monster, a dragon and something out of the movie "Fantasia."

It was titled "Lotus Sculpture."

In any event, the DWP said no thanks. But the City Council agreed to keep Cornell's "fine work of art" and added it to "the city's permanent art collection."

The last entry regarding the sculpture in the city archives said it was in storage in Van Nuys. The entry is dated 1975.

Not tickled pink

In 1966, artist Lynne Seemayer decided she was tired of seeing graffiti on the rocks above a tunnel on Malibu Canyon Road.

So she spent several months removing the writing, then painted a pink, naked woman in its place.

For a few days, the 60-foot-tall Pink Lady "made more headlines in Los Angeles than President Johnson and the Beatles," The Times' Michael Arkush wrote later.

Seemayer (now Lynne Westmore), who painted the figure while hanging from nylon ropes attached to nearby bushes and pipes, was praised by some, condemned by others. She reported receiving marriage proposals and invitations to join nudist camps as well as death threats.

One woman phoned her repeatedly, certain that her runaway daughter was the model.

In the meantime, county authorities declared the Pink Lady a traffic hazard and said she would have to go.

As onlookers watched, workers sprayed her with high-powered hoses, then pelted her with paint remover. Both methods failed to erase the figure, whom The Times' Jack Smith described as "exuberant and free," holding "a sprig of wildflowers" while "her long dark tresses flowed backward."

Finally, the county dispatched men in harnesses, carrying spray guns and 14 gallons of brown paint.

"Like insects they stood on her ears, her lips, her shoulders, her bosom, her hips, her knees, inch by inch, masking her flesh," Smith wrote.

Half a century later, you can still see a few faded splashes of pink paint above the tunnel. But the lady with the long tresses is gone, as are her wildflowers.

steveharvey9@gmail.com

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