Last night, I had the opportunity to go to the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk with my Urban Sociology class. Any expectations I had for the event were dashed. In such a good way. I often feel that I don’t take advantage of the fact that I am living in L.A. When I visited the public library downtown last semester for my internship at Siglio, I was instantly enthralled by the downtown area, and the library itself. I’m not sure what I expected downtown L.A. to be like before I went there, but maybe something like Disneyland or Times Square…except not that cool. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. (And side note, the library really is awesome. That place has something like six floors, half of which are underground, all of which are so vast in and of themselves that it feels simultaneously like you’re walking through a museum. It’s filled with art and sculptures and cafes and books. I was not happy that I did not time to fully appreciate it.)
As I walked around downtown, looking at the lights, the murals, the beautiful old architecture contrasted next to the new skyscrapers outside, the paintings, sculptures, mixed-media, and the photographs inside, I felt my heart and soul swelling with inspiration. The energy on the streets reminded me of New York. Though I go to New York pretty often, I’ve been wanting to go back really badly lately. I think that interning at two publishers and beginning to take my writing more seriously has been making me more and more aware that the real writing world is out there. It makes me itch. But anyway, being able to have that high-energy aura, that artistically-inclined crowd, set in mellow Southern California was an eclectic sense I hadn’t experienced before. And, the areas where many of the artists gathered to sell their goods furthermore reminded me of Old Town Albuquerque or Santa Fe, so I got a little sense of home, too.
I’m having trouble describing why I liked walking out in the streets so much, why I am so surprised to love the downtown area. It just feels so…urban. Not in the L.A. kind of way, but in the public-transportation-and-walking-culture kind of way. People are out. They pass each other, they hand out pamphlets, they ask for spare change, they make small talk waiting at the crosswalks, they eat on the sidewalks outside the restaurants and tempt you with their small food on big plates. There are lots of cars, but it’s like I said before, more like New York, and not like the other parts of town where walking on the streets next to some packed freeway or another feels dirty. The cars fit with the experience, adding to the light displays of the windows and outside decorations. And the architecture of the city itself is so beautiful. The old buildings have arcs and facades and decorative railings that remind you of the city’s Spanish history. One block over sit the skyscrapers with their sleek windows and flashy signs. Somehow, the combination fits aesthetically, at least in my mind. I want to go back, even if it’s just to walk around and soak in the big city.
I haven’t even gotten to the art and the insides of the buildings in my now very long and self-indulgent story. I felt very much that the buildings and galleries themselves were works of art. Many of these galleries are currently empty spaces in the downtown area that are typically used for other purposes, but during this economy open up solely to showcase artists’ works during the monthly Art Walk. It’s a way of helping the artists and a way of utilizing and advertising the free spaces. We went into several very old, beautiful buildings that used to be post offices, banks, business locations, perhaps restaurants. Many of them were run down, with bits of ceiling opened up or paint chipping. All felt as though they could be museums, giving us glimpses of the past, through not only the Los Angeles art they exhibited that night, but also through the fact that they might have a brick wall here, an exposed set of pipes there, a secluded staircase over here, and then an old bank vault over there. I felt like I was almost seeing the city as it was when settled by Europeans.
Then, some of the art itself just astounded me in its ability to make the most unexpected things beautiful. There were two sets of photography in particular that made me want to take my own camera out (or, preferably, a much, much better camera) and find the places they shot from, find my own unique locations to get my own works of art. These photographs were all taken in various parts of Los Angeles, and showed the many angles from which one can look at this city. One of these photographers had an aptitude for making everything look mind-blowingly colorful, without even needing to use Photoshop. The colors came from the moment he snapped his pictures. The other photographer mixed black and white photography with color highlights in each image. The way he chose his subjects and his colors made me look at places I have definitely seen before in new lights. I almost wanted to line my room with his work.
My photographer/writer identity ached in the best ways last night. The Art Walk served me with a lot of renewed artistic inspiration—both with my writing and with my photography. I realized just how much that Los Angeles is an extremely photogenic city, a perfect poetic muse. The beautiful and the ugly are equally compelling art subjects. When photographed, the palm trees, the sunsets, the vast beaches, and the city skyline speak as much to the soul of a city-lover as the fire escapes, the back alleys, the graffiti, and the highways. A phrase like “car-pressured streets split gray towns upon gray towns of people who avoid each other, and hide behind masks of smiles” resonates with me as much as “handful by handful, squares of light appear across the hills as the red sky melts into the ocean, fruity drinks are finished and fresh aloe sits on noses.” And I think now that these senses—though contradictory and not always beautiful-seeming on the surface—have been renewed, I can appreciate where I am living more, and appreciate it as a main muse for the next year that much more, too.
Next, since I don’t have full confidence in my ability to describe this scene in writing especially with my time constraints, I’ll add some photographs to give some context to the beauty I was talking about.