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Paper-Mache Artist Adds to Downtown Street Art Portfolio

Calder Greenwood poked at the downtown Los Angeles street art world with his life-size sunbathers in the pit at First and Broadway, the hole that will someday be a Federal Courthouse. Abandoned since the former State Building was razed in 2007, the dirt pit gets attention after rain leaves a pool of water. So far, the only activity has been ducks using it as a pop-up wetlands project. That changed with Greenwood using the scale to make it a statement of underused public space, making "Sunbathers" a sort of Occupy Empty Parcel, stirring some media buzz.

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Deer in Downtown L.A. | Photo by thaddywarbucks
Now that idea continues with a undisclosed collaborator who charged the hill with deer. Angels Knoll had a family of paper-mache deer overlooking downtown from Bunker Hill, next to Angels Flight, near the spot that has lovers overlooked the city in "500 Days of Summer," or the elderly residents recently seen in the recovered street photography of Ansel Adams.

What makes the pieces work, not unlike the cardboard cutouts by Ramiro Gomez, is the scale and being site-specific, making the landscape part of the installation. That is something shared with the city's better murals.

When you see that relationship between scope and scale, you wonder where he studied art. He didn't, as the 32 year-old multimedia professional told us from his undisclosed workshop.

Why paper-mache?

My dad's an art teacher. I didn't go to the school system he taught in, but I grew up tagging along at student shows and seeing all the different mediums and techniques he was teaching. I was always impressed with their paper-mache sculptures. I grew up mostly drawing, but got into building as well, cardboard models and robots. Cardboard was a perfect medium as it's free, easy to cut and bend. I realized you need paper-mache to hide all the duct tape, so it was a pretty natural process. I did lots of halloween costumes and movie props later.

Did you have this sort of thing in mind before?

Scope, scale and location. Since you can see it from far away, the whole environment before you is incorporated into your first impression of it. It's really about finding the location first, then choosing what to install there.

So it all came together with the downtown Los Angeles pit?

To be honest, I was walking by the pit one day, and looked into it. It was a sunny day -- half-filled with rainwater at the time -- and this beach scene popped into my head. I thought it would be funny to install life-size people there. But of course never intended to.

A few weeks later I got into talking with someone through a mutual friend, about four minutes into the conversation he mentioned that same pit, wanting to install a submarine. I mentioned the sunbathers. And that was it.

Has the attention of current street art, beyond graff, nudge you to hit the street with your paper-mache work?

I've always appreciated graffiti, but especially since working on Jon Reiss's doc "Bomb It". I used to live in Japan so I was translating the Japanese artist interviews. Hearing them uncut was really insightful, hearing it from their point of view.

I always wanted to get into street art, but spray paint is not my medium of choice. You have to be artistic under a lot of pressure. Stencils, stickers weren't it either. Seeing street art evolve has been exciting, the way artists are looking at things differently, and getting the passerby to really notice. Especially the variation of techniques and mediums. Cardboard/paper mache is just another medium to do it in.

This is a very pure form of street art, yet a strong guerrilla installation in its execution.

I didn't think at the time what we were doing was street art, it was really more about having this vision, and wanting to see it in real life, enough to put in the effort to actually make it. Because it's such a reward to see an idea realized. But yeah it is street art, it's very deliberately placed where it is.

Top: "Sunbathers" via Calder Greenwood I Facebook

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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