Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, April 6, 2015


When I first moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t sure what kind of life I was going to lead here.  It occurred to me that I might become a full-on motorhead.  I was encouraged, in the first couple of months, by meeting, separately, two very different artists and car enthusiasts: Robert Williams and Ed Ruscha.  This is Robert Williams:

In fact I mostly talked to them about each other.  Both had a taste for old cars, preferably 1930s Fords.  Ruscha kept his stock, Williams hot-rodded his.  And I seem to recall that Ruscha told he liked cars, but Williams really liked cars.  Williams knew the parts numbers for gaskets and so on, Ruscha didn’t.

Anyway, I still kind of like cars. but I’ve never turned into a motorhead.  I have decided (arguably in a sour grapes kind of way) that looking at exotic old car is way more fun that owning them.   So, since Robert Williams is currently having a one man exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, titled Slang Aesthetics, I decided walk over there, see the show, and walk home again. 

The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is in Barnsdall Park, right next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s endlessly decaying, endlessly being restored, Hollyhock House, and if you ask me the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery could use a snappier name.  The Hollyhock Gallery perhaps. The current name sounds kind of “worthy” and Robert Williams’s art is never, ever “worthy.”

It’s a big gallery and a big show, and I always enjoy watching people in art galleries, especially the way they walk, in that measured, respectful, dutiful way. So I was there looking at Williams’ paintings and drawings and occasional sculpture and keeping half an eye on the people in the gallery and suddenly I saw the man himself, with his wife Suzanne, walking across the expanse of the gallery floor. 

We said hello.  He said he’d been trying to get a show in this gallery for 40 years, and we talked very briefly about cars: the man has just acquired a Model T Ford, which he tells me is very tricky to drive, which comes as no surprise.  After we’d talked for a little while, he excused himself and went off to talk to a couple of attractive young women he’d spotted.  He introduced himself and took them on a walk around the gallery.  You can do that when it’s your show.

I was tempted to take a few pics of Mr. Williams in situ but I thought that would have been a bit fan-ish so I didn’t, but I found this one taken at the beginning of the show – he’s there doing a “walk through.”

Now a man who owns hotrods and a model T is probably not going to be a great walker, and Robert Williams’s paintings tend to feature cars, women, curious bits of architecture but I did find this picture (not in the exhibition) from 1970 titled, Psychic Pedestrians On a Spiral Horizon (Barycenter).

       However, the open-minded pedestrian, psychic or not, always finds something on his travels.  To complete the expedition, on the walk home, I did find this nice bit of street art, which delivers a message some of us know isn’t strictly true.

As I took the picture I was hoping that somebody might walk by to give it some human interest.  Nobody did, but I was aware of the woman on the right of the picture who looks as though she’s walking, though in fact I think she works in that shop and had stepped outside for a cigarette and a coffee break. 

But it was only when I got home and downloaded the picture that I noticed that waist of her, and the fact that she’s wearing a corset.  Now I wouldn’t say that nobody walks in LA wearing a corset, but really, very, very few.

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