Having trodden the pavements of Venice, Los Angeles for over four years, I always find the notion of LA as an uncultivated, artless entity a rather insulting art purist’s chinese whisper. Truth be told, the City of Angels is a landscape of oozing pigmented urban tapestry rich in civic and political history.
From the sky, the city is a gigantic linear sprawl, home to some twelve million Angelinos. Ten lane highways thread the concrete jungle together; a network of pulsating mechanical arteries. Lights, billboards, shops and districts flash by, inevitably you hit a traffic jam and find yourself gazing upon a sun streaked, faded mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe on an automotive shop, or through the chain link fence of a famous old restaurant doused in graffiti and Mexican revolutionary figures. It’s moments like these that make LA one of the most culturally diverse, colourful cities in the world.
In 1981, photographer Agnes Varda explored these themes in her film Mur Murs. From Afro-Futurism in Watts to utopic psychedelia in Venice Beach, Varda surveys the iconic and the cockamamie, the commercial and the communal, mixing her own unique dose of poetics into a valuable cinematic document – as homespun urban backdrops rub shoulders with the epicenter of the movie industry.
Sadly, many of the murals documented in Mur Murs are now long gone. The legislation of a city ordinance decreed in 1986 in an attempt to depopulate billboards has also been applied to murals, thereby rendering any large-scale paintings illegal.
A common Western opinion is that valuable art is experienced within museums and books, an odd assumption given that a building’s exterior is a much greater canvas – not only in terms of dimension – with the ability to reach far wider audiences. Art for the masses, not the few.