A few weeks ago I took a car ride to 42nd and Vermont to see the Street Art Project at Manual Arts
High — a public school sporting outdoor and indoor murals by an array of LA’s most prolific and recognizable street artists, and some featured international guests. I was there in the company of photographer and publisher Kirk Pedersen, whose company ZERO+ is bringing out a title on the Manual Arts Street Art Project later this year. Pedersen became an aficionado of the genre as his own photographic interests (which have long been in documenting walls around the world for various reasons, aesthetic and sociological and architectural) inevitably sprouted more and more examples of complex and beautiful work by a new generation of street artists. He fell in love with the stuff and now his publishing imprint is shaping up as a major destination for those who share this passion. I just finished working on a ZERO+ book with Mark Whalen (once known as Kill Pixie); and we are currently working on a Fall release with Shark Toof . Later this year or early next year, watch for CRYPTIK too, and I think Aiko is also in the pipeline. Except for Whalen, all of those artists have work at Manual Arts High.
So backing up a bit, for those of you who, like me, had no idea such a place as MAH even existed, here’s a quick history. I found this photo essay by Layli Samimi-Moore and story from GOOD to be really helpful and informative about the history and the issues at stake. Mark Ayala, the dynamic and unflappable art teacher who is spearheading support for the project’s outdoor and indoor elements, speaks eloquently about its social benefits of free and equal expression, the channeling of emotion into non-destructive means, and the creative inspiration for the students (not just in the art department) of having access to this kind of museum-quality work. Walking those halls is like living in an art gallery, let me tell you. It’s like my dream of heaven! I was shocked to learn its fate was far from certain and its uniqueness not universally celebrated.
MAH has work by Kofie One, the Yo Collective, Herakut, ROA, Ewsoeism, Shark Toof, Aiko, Rabi, Buff Monster, Loraine Villarea, Mear One, and dozens of others whose names you know and whose art you recognize from simply being outside in Los Angeles are represented on the MAH walls — and despite the controversy, new work is appearing all the time. Fresh off an amazing show at LeBasse Projects (who are exceptionally knowledgeable about and supportive of this genre, and are getting ready to show Shark Toof in June) German duo Herakut’s contribution to the MAH family is directly across the street from the campus, facing the side of the building that sports the giant ROA mural. It had been finished the night before we arrived so our pictures were fresh and pristine, and we felt like we discovered something. The fresh Herakut work was covered in Arrested Motion (one of the very best street-art sites out there). Speaking of ROA, CLICK HERE for his epic contribution to MAH — for the record, this mural is the piece he chose to exhibit in MOCA’s current street art show.
All of this fulfills the promise of this very special place’s visionary creative history. Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston are both graduates of Manual Arts High — as is Soundlessons capo J-Logic. His mom was a teacher there for something like 35 years, and on the same occasion that brought us out (a graduation-time show and sale of student art) he and the Hit+Run crew were there with screens and decks to help celebrate. “When I was here, we didn’t have anything like this, we didn’t even have art or music class. But it was through one of the teachers that I got hooked up with an internship at Warner Bros Records…” The rest is, of course, Soundlessons and Hit+Run history. I’m still rocking my new “Free REVOK” shirt –a perfect reminder that now — when awareness, appreciation, and persecution of street artists are at an all-time high — is the time to act to protect the work at the MAH and elsewhere. Pass this around, see about heading over for a tour of the grounds, you’ll be blown away, and you will want to help. Click here to see additional photos!