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Blogger curates L.A.'s street art

Greg Linton extends the lives of works created by night, erased by day.

March 11, 2011|Hector Tobar
  • Greg Linton searches out street art in the alleys and nooks behind and between the shops along Melrose Avenue and elsewhere. His blog, Melrose and Fairfax, gives a transient medium some permanence.
Greg Linton searches out street art in the alleys and nooks behind and between… (Katie Falkenberg / For the…)

The walls on Melrose Avenue say something different every day.

Two years ago, Greg Linton came all the way from Florida to be near them.

Now, most mornings, he sets out on foot to look — after the artists of the night have been hard at work.

Walking with his dog, Shasta, he snaps pictures of the new art he sees. Most of it is interesting. Some of it is wonderful and transcendent. And just about all of it is illegal.

One day, Linton might see a walking peasant woman, rendered in quickly applied yet delicate splashes of paint. Another, paper zebras and faded film stars painted on tiles.

The work is abstract, realistic and fanciful, crudely and expertly drawn. There are symbols, objects, faces — by legendary artists and brand new ones, ranging in age from perhaps 10 to 80.

"It's one of those things you might not notice at first," Linton, 33, told me as we walked past Melrose boutiques, pausing at street art hidden in the nooks between storefronts. "And then once you do, you see that it's everywhere."

Linton is one of many L.A. chroniclers of this creative explosion. He's doing it for free and for the pure love of art on his popular blog, Melrose and Fairfax. These days, the street-art craze keeps Linton busy.

Even some building owners — the victims of these repeated acts of vandalism — have ended up giving in and embracing it. Some let it be or cover it with plastic. A few yank it from their walls to take it home or sell it.

"Six pieces were carved out of the wall here," Linton told me as we stood by a wall at Melrose and Spaulding. He documented the incident last month, posting a photograph of a worker using a power tool to remove a stenciled painting by the artist known as Free Humanity.

Much of the frenzy is being fed by the growing reputation of an international cadre of artists for whom the walls of L.A. are a street art mecca.

When the legendary — and fiercely incognito — British street artist Banksy came to L.A. last month, Linton directed his Melrose and Fairfax readers to some of the first photos of his work here, including a haunting piece in Compton that depicts the foreclosure of a girl's crayon house.

Pablo Perez, an L.A. native who runs the blog The Dirt Floor, said Banksy's 2010 street-art documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" was a pivotal moment for the scene here.

"For a lot of people, it was the first time they were exposed to street art," Perez told me. "Now we're starting to see more artists. The streets are getting flooded."

You can hate the proliferation of street art, and many do. But it's undeniably a reflection of the life force of the city.

People have always come to L.A. to create, provoke and declare the death of old notions of art and the birth of new ones.

Perez, 43, launched his blog in 2009 after months of walking the streets shooting photographs of guerrilla art.

Linton first followed L.A. street art from Miami. A former English and philosophy student, he was working as an underwriting assistant for a mortgage company, a job that "killed the soul," he said.

"All the people I'd seen in books and magazines were here," Linton said. So he moved to L.A. two years ago. Soon he encountered Neckface, one of his street-art heroes.

Then, as now, much of the art was being quickly painted over, or "buffed." Linton immortalized the artists' work with his photographs, and soon he was meeting more of them.

He was also developing a loyal following.

One fan, Brett Landrum, approached him as he studied an art-covered wall in a parking lot across the street from Fairfax High.

"Hey, you're Melrose and Fairfax," said the 24-year-old artist and marketing employee.

"Greg is really up on his stuff," Landrum told me. "He's always getting the first look on something."

Landrum joined us as we looked at the wall, with its massive spray-can art rendering of a menacing cat and posters stuck on with wheat paste. "A few weeks ago, they buffed it, but not everything," Linton said. "The owner kept the pieces he liked."

Among the saved pieces was a gnomelike drawing by Koffinz.

Linton also pointed out something new, a large sticker with four rudimentary but colorful figures. If it looked as though it was drawn by a little kid, that's because it was — something Linton discovered soon after he first posted Bod Bod's work on his blog.

Bod Bod, he found out via e-mail, is still in grade school. "His dad wrote to me."

The art varies widely in quality. And yet so much is brilliant, including the peasant woman Linton and I saw on a Melrose side street, by artists collectively known as "Accountability?"

"It's all very democratic," Perez said. "The artists put it out to share it. They're saying it belongs to all of us."

On The Dirt Floor, Perez posts interviews with some of the city's best street artists, including a remarkable exchange with KH No. 7, who answered Perez's questions in words and drawings.

To explain the origins of her art name, a takeoff on 007, KH No. 7 drew one of her signature spark plugs, with a thought bubble attached. "I think I always wanted to be a secret agent," she wrote. "Funny how close that is to 'street artist.'"

After a couple of hours walking along Melrose, I'm happy to report that L.A. remains as it always has been — a magnet for artistic misfits. There is too much art going up and coming down for any one person to take it all in.

Thankfully, we have passionate devotees wandering our streets in search of it. Some of the art they chronicle and their commentary isn't for prudes. But go to their sites, and also try to observe your city closely.

You'll be amazed.

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