What would you do if you didn’t know the new concentration camp down the block was just Los Angeles graffiti art?
It’s not art unless someone wants to tare it off the wall and slash it to shreds by the end of the night. There are no exceptions for Los Angeles graffiti artists. A good work of art should present a provocative question. Graffiti art can just as well as canvas art inquire about the viewer’s most personal thoughts. Perhaps street art and graffiti seem so vulgar and annoying to so many people for a good reason. Maybe it’s because street art should give the viewer a chance to act upon the thoughts stirred up by the work of art. Perhaps all the controversies surrounding graffiti are completing intended by the artist. One artist, Plastic Jesus, and his Los Angeles graffiti art are unavoidably thought provoking and beautifully antagonizing.
Plastic Jesus is a graffiti artist working in Los Angeles. He is known for his stencils and his large scale installations in highly populated locations. He is focuses on inspiring change in society. He also has a background in fine art photography (Plastic Jesus). But his really outrageous works are his street art installations.
They’re powerless as a printed signs but hold the weight of entire holocausts. Many Americans have already been shocked to see the government notices hanging from fenced off constructions sites. They are black and white professionally printed notices often zip tied to chain link fences. They read, “Future Internment Camp, Lot reserved for.” Perfectly centered and nestled neatly underneath is the Seal of the President of the United States. His name and signature proudly validate the announcement: “By order: Donald J. Trump.” Onlookers are left to decide if these startling notices are just marks of Los Angeles graffiti or actual future erections of U.S. genocide.
“What then was the business of the ‘fine artist’? In the wake of his unresolved Demoiselles experiment, Picasso banded up with a former Fauve painter, Georges Braque. […] In their working dialogue between 1909 and 1911, the ‘What are you looking at?’ stance of those Avignon prostitutes turned into a tougher, more inward riddle. That is to say, from probing the conditions of exhibition, the two painters moved on to questioning the conditions of illusion. What makes you think you are looking at something three-dimensional when you are looking at a flat picture?”
– Julian Bell
Like Picasso and Modern art, Plastic Jesus and graffiti art are raising controversial questions and inspiring tactful ideas. When Constable paints a lovely landscape no one bats and eye, but when someone finds graffiti spray painted on their yellow Corvette all hell breaks loose. People forget how disgusting and underappreciated Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (1862-1863) and Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905) was. Perhaps a sports car isn’t a very good canvas, but the point is these works of Modern art, much like Los Angeles graffiti art, were underappreciated in their time. Not all of these artists are Los Angeles graffiti artists, but they are presenting a serious question, “Is what you’re looking at real?” Picasso and Braque were asking their viewers to ponder weather a canvas with a few simple patches of paint on it was a flat picture or some strange world with volume and multiple dimensions (Bell 380). Plastic Jesus, someone making street art well after the World War II, is still asking the same question, “Is this future erection of an internment camp real?” Plastic Jesus’ Los Angeles graffiti art is fighting oppressive and tyrannical standards in art with question and thought.
“I often sit back and watch peoples reaction to my street pieces. I think it’s vital for any artist to gauge reaction from his or her audience. The reaction usual fall into the following categories, Shock/Surprise. Amazement and bewilderment. I try to make my pieces (particularly the installations) difficult to ignore.” – Plastic Jesus
These offensive signs jump off the fences and instigate a wrestling mach with passerbys like all good Los Angles graffiti art or Contemporary art should. Graffiti is the boxer people see down every ally with his bright red gloves on and ready to fight. Los Angeles graffiti artists are Contemporary artists therefore they have a duty to activate the role of the viewer. A good boxing match needs two fighters and this particular street art uses its inherit mystery and questionable authenticity to invite the viewer to become that fighter and not just a watcher. The graffiti here does not sit quietly between the confines of a guided frame inside a gallery; this Los Angeles graffiti hangs on a rusty metal fence outdoors beckoning viewers to come and participate.
It’s not common for Los Angeles graffiti art by Plastic Jesus to go unnoticed and overlooked. This is because this is one of the Los Angeles graffiti artists who rises to the challenge of a true artist. The graffiti art here is a catalyst for interesting ideas and challenging questions. But street art by Plastic Jesus also ask the viewer to decide if it is valid. This loud, perhaps vulgar Los Angeles graffiti art references thoughtful and important issues in contemporary culture and, more importantly, inspires people to act on these issues. How would you react?