The Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art is an initiative that aims to reconsider the tradition of public art through a collaboration between artists, sign painters, and business owners. Originated in Ecuador by artist and anthropologist X. Andrade, the project will examine how the fine art tradition intersects with the tradition of commercial hand-painted signs.
As Artist-in-Residence at Outpost for Contemporary Art in Highland Park, Los Angeles, Andrade will collaborate with Occidental College and KCET Departures in exploring the possibilities of using storefronts along York Boulevard as a canvas for engaging dialogue between artists, non-artists, and the community. Sign painters will appropriate works by fine artists, using their motifs to create works that not only will be pieces of public art, but also serve to advertise a business and become fixtures on the changing face of the community.
The Full Dollar site will feature content that will be updated several times a week. These include video interviews, guest blog posts, and a photo survey of hand painted signs across Highland Park.
The Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art is developed through a partnership between:
We gathered a handful of Los Angeles sign painters together at the Outpost for Contemporary Art to view their work, talk about the craft of sign painting, and discuss the goals of the Full Dollar project on York Blvd.
The group of sign painters we spoke to was as talented as they were diverse, including Rodolfo Cardona, originally from El Salvador, and Agbey Hommey, from Ghana. Some of them are self taught, while others attained a degree from the well-known L.A. Trade Tech sign painting program.
We even had a female sign painter at the table - Kimberley Edwards, a.k.a. Window Goddess. Kimberly is a rarity in the male dominated world of sign painting.
It has become clear that most sign painters consider themselves artists, and in most cases their profession is just a way of funding their real artistic projects, whether it be murals, watercolor, or sculpture. We touched on this topic when we interviewed Richard Ankrom, who also talked with us at the roundtable.
On the wall of Bernie's Transmissions at 5207 York Boulevard is this informative and eye-catching painted sign. By utilizing all the space on the wall, the sign painter was able to balance a large amount of information with a clear and bold aesthetic. Here, we can see the look of vintage sign painting in the simple brown-black-white palette and bold sans font. This sign fills its space with information without losing its hand-painted charm.
Originally started in Ecuador by urban anthropologist X. Andrade, Full Dollar pays tribute to the traditional craft of sign painting while at the same time providing a critique of the contemporary art market. During his residency in Los Angeles, Andrade will steer a collaborative dialogue between artists, business owners, students, and the community. The storefronts of York Blvd. will become a blank canvas for a unique form of commercial art.
For me the project seems both ironic and serendipitous. My first experience as an artist was through the vehicles of mural and sign painting. It is quite fascinating then that my first project at Outpost takes me back to those days - from painting a mural at a small Mexican restaurant in San Marino, California (see photo above) to painting my most significant mural/sign in Istanbul, Turkey where I ended up living for 4 ½ years.
Ronald on his experiences in Turkey and what the Full Dollar project means for the neighborhood of Highland Park
The current project at Outpost reminds me of my sign-painting days when painting with a 1-2 inch Langnickel brush and a can of One Shot sign enamel was a momentous occasion. There wasn't anything more satisfying than loading my brush with lead filled paint and 'cutting' a full edge of a letter. It was breathtaking.
In many ways, those early years of sign painting informed my negotiating abilities today - from dealing with clients who insisted on certain pictorial ideas or colors, to talking the price down, to finally seeing the "way" the piece should be executed. In the end, the client was always satisfied with my work, for the most part. In many ways, the move to Highland Park to run Outpost becomes not only a good shift in my career but a fond reminder of my own artistic roots.
This week we explore the artistic side of sign painting. The history of sign painting focuses on the unique hand crafted fonts--but words can only do so much. Imagery is critical, especially when trying to sell products.
With this mural by Raul Baltazar, La Estrella takes an interesting route--instead of showing its food, they portray the atmosphere and crowd at their restaurant. The sign definitely captures the essence of its business, and offers a glimpse into an aspect of sign painting that we haven't discussed yet.
Juan Lorenzo Barragan, writer and editor of the publication Grafica Popular en Ecuador - Popular Graphics in Ecuador - talked to us via Skype, shedding some light onto the creative process behind X Andrade's work, his fascination with hand painted signs and their role in Ecuador's visual vernacular.
The takeaway? For some, sign painting denotes a kind of primitive provincialism, while for others it reflects the core values of a community that lives at the margins of commercialism and multinational branding.
That same "unrefined" language of the sign painting can be found in Highland Park and many other inner city neighborhoods across Los Angeles, reflecting the influx of migrants that may come from places as far as the town of Las Playas in Ecuador.
This week we chose a storefront that displays a nice mix of a font based sign with artistic expression. The use of colors and a creative font catches the attention of passers by. It is this combination of the craft of sign painting coupled with artistic skills that creates a truly beautiful and successful sign.
We recently had an eye-opening conversation with X. Andrade about the parameters involved in deciding which business owners, sign painters and artists should be selected for the Full Dollar York Blvd. project.
Although the original impetus for the Full Dollar series back in Las Playas Ecuador was to question the hierarchies embedded in the production of a work of art and a sign painting by having the sign painter recreate the likeness of an iconic art image in a business storefront, translating that same dynamic to the context of Los Angeles, and Highland Park in particular, may prove to be a bit more complicated.
Highland Park was the first art colony in Los Angeles. Arroyo Culture, which sprung from the Arts and Craft Movement, was supported by the work of such local luminaries as William Lees Judson and Charles Lummis. The area has seen dramatic economic and demographic shifts since the turn of the 20th century - from a burgeoning cultured suburbia in the teens, a Latino stronghold in the '70s and '80s, to a gentrified, hybrid community today.
Las Playas, by contrast, is a small fishing town on the pacific coast of Ecuador which, as X puts it, "had been marginal to state interventions, urban planning and development resulting on decaying streets, abandoned houses, and general disorder."
The social conditions of Highland Park and Las Playas are so dramatically different that the parameters of selection and, in some cases, the underlying impetus behind the intervention, need to be re-tooled to conform to the social and economic dynamics of the area. How do we translate the Full Dollar project into the context of Los Angeles? What should the dynamics between painter, artist and owner be? Can collaboration spring from them without a predetermined form of curatorial commentary? What is their role and relation to history and place?
Input from the Highland Park community will be valuable in helping us address such questions as we move forward with the project.
Sticking to the original craft again we have Vintage Tattoo. They don't get caught up in the frills, just a nice gritty font. That is what is so amazing about hand painted signs, each sign can evoke a different emotion or reaction through the font. Last week we showcased a photo that focused on the font as well and it is nearly a polar opposite from what we have this week. Simple details have a huge influence on handmade work and sign painting is no different.
Check out more photos here.
This week we show off the amazing font that Optometry has on their storefront. Instead of giving way to images or something more abstract, they stick with the craft of sign painting: words.
Check out more of what Highland Park has to offer for sign painting on our flickr.
This week we highlight a store that uses sign painting in an interesting way. Highland Park Florist decided to use the pole outside of its shop. Maybe they're onto something--life is happier with flowers. This is only one side of the pole, of four total.