Tree Seeds Graffiti Art Installation on Empty Downtown Floors

A five-story downtown building has foliage growing out of the edge its roof. And it became inspiration for an art exhibition.

"Downtown is changing. The tree is growing," said Gronk, a founding member of East Los Angeles based Asco.

Gronk, who is constantly producing multi-disciplinary works, named the ficus growing out of brick and mortar in the city's core, "The Little Tree That Could." Since he himself has lived in downtown since 1979, both he and the tree could be named the "Cling of Broadway."

Recently he and others painted new artworks on the fourth and fifth floor of the building -- raw space that has sat empty for years, but are now about to be rehabbed and restored.

The exhibition titled "Under Construction" was held February 16, and is a temporary signifier for a changing downtown. The one-night enclave of works by artists who work and live in downtown Los Angeles carried an informal recall of graffiti applied in the empty shells of buildings as temporary installations; a limited edition that, if lucky, is documented.

Gronk's piece is titled "Evacuated, Resettlement, Deportation" -- a twist on how word meaning, like a city, is in constant change. "One culture leaves, another comes along, and uses what the former culture left behind," he said.

Art by Gronk. Photo by Stephen Zeigler

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Other artists in the one night show included Eyeone, Kozem, Adict, ACME, Richard McDowell, Codak, Swank, Vyal, and Lawrence Mota.

"Building tats" is what "Under Construction" artist, and in part co-curator, Tanner Goldbeck nicknames the works on the fifth floor. "The painted walls will be there for a while, but all the hanging art had to go," he said. "In a few months they will be tearing up that top floor. Flash-in-the-pan."

As for the tree, it is surviving without soil. Its roots are still growing; it is able to thrive on moisture within the building. Now owned by David Gray, art has been the building's ethos for a while. This is the same Broadway site that hosted Johanna Poethig's "Calle de la Eternidad" (Eternity Street).

The spontaneous art began when Gronk and Goldbeck strung lights on the tree, with access provided by onsite construction management.

"The owner was open to letting more people paint, so I invited some friends. It's a rare opportunity to have an open space to paint indoors without drama and no hassles, so they jumped at the chance," said Goldbeck. "We got to spend a few Saturday's hanging out and painting. The fun part of the art life."

Goldbeck wishes it could be up longer, but soon the elevator shaft will be removed, along with most of the roof, as the structure is reinforced for the building's transformation into the new downtown personality. "Construction waits for no one," Goldbeck said. "I'd like to think some of the parts will remain behind the walls for some future construction people to figure out."

Left behind images is something Gronk has played with since middle school, when as a young artist he made masks modeled after African folk art and left them around East Los Angeles for anthropological surveys to discover and solve.

"Ephermeral is also art," said Gronk.

Under Construction exhibition I Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. Taco

Under Construction exhibition I Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. Taco

Under Construction exhibition I Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. Taco

A tree grows on Broadway I Photo by Tanner Goldbeck

Top photo: Art by Gronk next to the tree that grows on the roof of 351 S. Broadway. Photo courtesy of Gronk. Additional photos courtesy Erwin Recinos for L.A. Taco, and Tanner Goldbeck.

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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