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Sunday, November 26, 2017


Hollywood was originally dubbed Hollywoodland, by a real estate mogul's wife who just "liked the sound of it." Later the "land" was dropped, a sign was built and the moniker "Tinseltown" emerged as movie industry took over the neighborhood in early part of the twentieth century.  It's really the kind of place I would hate if I wasn't a sketcher. As a sketcher, it's a bonanza.

Last year around this time I sketched the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  It left me hungry to go back, so I was delighted when the Los Angeles Urban Sketchers chose Hollywood and Highland Complex as the location for the 24-hour global sketch crawl.

My first stop was Babylon Courtyard with it's majestic elephants, and hieroglyphic wall amid an outdoor shopping mall.  These elephants are so awesome I drew them several times. They were first used on the set of the film Intolerance in 1916.

Wandering out to the street I found a mass of tourists, surging on the Avenue of the Stars amidst street sellers, performers and costumed characters.

I saw signs of the movie industry everywhere I looked- theaters surrounded me, human-sized Oscar mannequins offered photo ops; glitz and glamour flashed incessantly.

I quickly sketched another landmark, the Roosevelt Hotel, the oldest continually operating hotel in Los Angeles. In its heyday it was the favorite for many celebrities. Marilyn Monroe had a poolside room. Some have reported seeing her ghost in the mirror of that room. The Roosevelt has also appeared in many movies -- Wall Street and Maid in Manhattan being two. New York? LA? Whatever.

We met for group photos and lunch to cap off our sketching for the day. 

I had started a sketch of the street but didn't finish it on the spot, so when I had another opportunity, I returned to Hollywood. This time at night. Again the elephants were a strong pull first in black and white then watercolor.


And so were the gawkers.

And the showmen.

It's a mirage of lights and flashy glamour and the main challenge is to tune out all the distractions and focus on the essentials. I think I'm still being distracted. Guess I'll have to go back. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

There but for Fortune

Note: The Choir organizer just contacted me and asked that I share this link to the upcoming documentary film by award winning visionary Susan Polis Schutz (Blue Mountain Arts). 

 Definitely one of the coolest things I've witnessed while I've been in Los Angeles. The Voices of our City choir from San Diego performed at the Santa Monica Public Library. The choir is literally the voice of the non-profit with the same name whose mission statement reads: 
Voices of Our City Choir is committed to transforming the perception and experience of homelessness through the healing power of the arts. We are building bridges connecting diverse communities in positive ways through musical performance, advocacy, and education. 
This was not a Christmas choir, but an ongoing performance group/support group for the members. What sets this choir apart from other choirs with people experiencing homelessness, is that they are also activists. They organize.They show up at city council meetings. They advocate for change. They push for justice. They have helped 20 people get into housing this past month. And they are a bonded group. 

The set ranged from Stevie Wonder, to Louie Armstrong to Sister Sledge to one of their own songs. There was a mix with two guitarists, a pianist and a drummer accompanying some awesome vocalists. 

One woman who was seated most of the time had a solo. "I can't stay in my chair for this one." as she stood with her cane and let her soul come through her voice. They invited audience participation for some songs, so naturally I sang and danced along, unsuccessfully trying to blink away tears. It was all very emotional to see folks we think of as desperate, just ROCKIN'.

After the performance they had a question/answer time. They sat on the edge of the stage and shared their stories. One man, a former tech engineer who had lost everything, fell into depression and ended up sleeping on the street across from city hall in his "button-down polo shirt".

"When you get to that place, there is nothing there to help you. Nothing. No one."

Towards the end of the discussion a woman called from the audience lauding the choir for their bravery and their spirit. "I couldn't come earlier because I didn't have anyone to watch my stuff".

Another audience member self-identified as a very privileged person reported that she had done a lot of research and worked with homeless people for many years. She repeatedly affirmed them saying their voice was the most important thing they could do to help the problem of homelessness. Letting people know how you are just like them..."there but for fortune..."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Dia De Los Muertos - LA style

Halloween takes on a whole new dimension in Los Angeles. Everywhere I look I see signs advertising for Dia De Los Muertos with multiple celebrations around the Greater Los Angeles area. We went first on Saturday Oct 28 to Pasadena's tour of altars which turned out to be a way for the business community to draw customers into the different shops that hosted altars. Cute but very commercial.

Sunday, Los Angeles' Olvera street in downtown LA hosts a big bash. And even thought the souvenir-lined alley is one of the biggest tourist traps in LA, especially for Mexican goods, it put on a real party.

The permanent stalls selling a myriad of colorful goods empties out on Los Angeles Plaza, a zocolo, or city square. The big guys built their altars here. That's altars that were on average 10 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

The place was packed and the music enlivened the atmosphere even more. Food carts, oversized skeletons, and Aztec dancers all added their flavors to the colorful pot.

While I was sketching a woman came up and asked if I was with a group. When I mentioned Urban Sketchers, she nodded in recognition. It was Stephanie Lowe, a long time urban sketcher who was there with her high school photography class.

Just after sunset the plaza bandstand became the stage for an extravagant performance featuring skeletons telling elaborate tales and singing ballads which I can only guess (because it was in Spanish) were lamentations for fellow deadheads.

As we enjoyed our mole and enchilada dinner back on Olvera street, the nightly procession marched within inches of our table. 

And that was just the beginning. Today at the public library I picked up another brochure advertising at least eight more Dia de Los Muertos events around the city. I guess I'll be carting around my watercolors for a few more days.