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.
Showing posts with label STREET ART. Show all posts
Showing posts with label STREET ART. Show all posts

Thursday, April 26, 2018


Somebody’s been making art in my neighborhood and leaving it in the street, which I think is not quite the same as making street art.  So far, I’ve only seen it on Franklin Avenue but it’s perfectly possible it’s elsewhere too.

Some pieces look more skillful than others, some more crazy than others.  Some
of it seems kind of paranoid, and potentially offensive, and possibly racist, but at this point in art history who knows whether lack of skill, craziness, and offensiveness aren’t just artistic strategies.  Quite a few people were walking by as I was taking these pictures, but nobody paid any attention either to me or to the art.

Of course much of Hollywood, like the rest of the Los Angeles, perhaps like the rest of the world, continues to be demolished and rebuilt at a frenetic pace.  There are plenty of ruins and building sites, and some structures that look like both simultaneously.

And some new buildings require the digging of deep holes that will eventually become subterranean parking garages. Do note how “nature” is still coming up through the ground – though that won’t last long.

Some short sections towards the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard remain much as they were when I first arrived in LA, over a decade and a half ago, even as things change all around them. There are at least three old school motels, which remain in business and you imagine may be kind of sketchy - the yelp reviews are mixed.

 The Harvard still offers in-room “adult movies” but you suspect that may be just a retro affectation.   The whole place looks a movie set and may well be used as one.  

 The Hollywood Dowtowner, a place I’ve photographed a few times in passing over the years, is certainly my favorite from the outside, and I was quite cheered to see these guys below working on the neon sign.

I guess they knew what they were doing – they certainly had a very big truck, but I did wonder if they really needed those high visibility yellow vests.  When you’re 30 feet in the air in a cheery picker, people are going to see you with or without a fluorescent jacket.


Thursday, December 15, 2016


Another day, another walk in Hollywood, and a day of faces, some looking down, some looking up from the sidewalk.  Some (as it were human) some less so.

A minimalist Lou Reed from his Transformer era.  I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s Lou Reed, but it does look a bit like Michael Bolton:

A comparatively detailed face signed by Klassy:

And then what at first I thought was best of all, a stencil of our soon to be Fearless Leader:

“Pendejo,” as I understand it, means a fool or an idiot, though it also (and simultaneously) means a single pubic hair.  Good knockabout, activist stuff you might think, but it turns out that “Ilegal Mescal” is just a brand of liquor which rather spoils the “guerilla” effect.

And meanwhile high above it all on Hollywood Boulevard, in Thai Town, not so much looking down as looking beyond, four golden statues of Apsoni, a mythical half-woman, half-lion, which appear thoroughly unimpressed by what’s going on below.  We’re all in the gutter, right?

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Gang sign?  Illuminati?  Symbol of the coming feline apocalypse?  We may 

never know, or at least not until it's too late.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I suppose that if you leave your art out in the street, you can’t be too surprised if it fails to stay pristine.  Even so, the last time I walked along Hollywood Boulevard I was surprised, and maybe shocked and offended, and certainly dismayed, to find that the above mural of Dolores Del Rio had been, so to speak, subverted some rather inelegant tagging.   It now looks like this:

Well, who could say they were completely surprised?  You might think the solution would be to put the art under transparent plastic, but that seems to be only a partial solution.  When I was in London earlier this year, wandering around Fitzrovia, I came upon a Banksy; genuine as far as I could tell.  It had started out looking like this:

But when I saw it, it looked like this:

It seems that a certain number of people want to “express themselves” in conjunction with or in opposition to Banksy.  In many cases this doesn’t look much different from being jealous and resentful.  Arguably the original remains intact but the effect is spoiled, or maybe it isn’t.  Banksy is obviously sussed out enough not to be surprised by this kind of thing.  Whether that’s the same as welcoming it, I’m not sure.

Want to see an amazingly unconvincing faux Banksy.  Then check out this one that was on the front of the Liberal Club in Woking a few years back:

 Although of course it does occur to me that it looks so faux that maybe Banksy (subversive that he is) actually did it just to confuse the art lovers and the art haters of Woking.

But sometimes you don’t need human intervention to create change and decay in a mural.  Nobody has tagged or vandalized Terry Schoonhoven Isle of California mural in the Sawtelle district of LA , but it’s now the best part of 45 years old.  It was created in 1970-2, when it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

The California sun has been the main agent of destruction here, which again comes as no surprise.  But also the wall has been reinforced, which is obviously a good thing – nobody wants the wall to fall down-  but the anchors (I think that’s the right term) are evidently made from some kind of ferrous metal, and so each of them has rusted and bled.

As a man who enjoys a little ruin and entropy, as well as art, I find it hard to get too upset about it.  I also love walls, whatever state they’re in.  Here’s a picture of one I saw earlier, in New York – no sign of rust, but no sign of art either.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I was walking in Miami at the weekend.  I hadn’t gone there to walk, and I can’t imagine that anyone ever does: it’s the heat and humidity you know, and on one day the rain, and the howling wind that made the palm tress flap like the hair of a lead singer in a certain kind of grindcore band. 

I was there for the Miami Book Fair, yes I’m “big” in Miami, and I wasn’t the only big thing.  Take this tennis ball for instance:

And the giant plant pots below.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Pot of Basil” in the Decameron: high-born Isabella falls in love with Lorenzo, one of her brothers' servants. The bros find out, kill Lorenzo and bury him. Isabella digs him up, cuts off his head and sticks it in a pot of basil.  With plant pots like this you could accommodate the whole corpse.

Even the street art was big, especially this thing on the side of the Ace Hardware store. 

It’s an ambitious work to be sure and it can’t have been easy to work at that scale, but obviously there were some problems with the feet.  Painting feet is hard.

And did I walk among ruins in Miami?  I most certainly did, sir.  Not just this gas station:

 Or this elegant crumbling wall, which was probably my favorite:

But especially I walked around the ruins of the old Miami Herald building.

Yes, there were a few fences and some parts of the ruins looked very unstable, but there wasn’t much to deter even the most casual urban explorers. 

And anyone would be encouraged by this sign posted nearby:

If that signs means what I think it means, it appears that you can walk through the ruins to your heart’s content right up to the moment when a cop tells you to stop.  Can that be right? And I didn’t see a great many cops policing these ruins.  But there on the water front, I did see this unambitious but apparently heartfelt graffito. 

Given the liberality of the no trespassing sign this didn’t seem like much of an achievement, but maybe it was something much worse that someone had not been caught doing.  Hey, I know what goes on in Miami - I’ve seen the TV show.  And just in case you were wondering, no,  I didn’t see anybody walking around Miami who looking anything like this:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I’m in the middle of doing one semester’s part-time teaching at Cal Arts (MFA workshop on the novel).  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  They say of themselves, “As an internationally recognized school for the performing and visual arts—film, theater, art, dance, music and writing—the CalArts artistic philosophy places an emphasis on an exploration of new paths beyond conventional boundaries.”  That sounds like me, for sure.

Anyway, Calarts is thirty miles north of Los Angeles, set in the middle of a green, rolling campus and the first time I saw it I thought I, “Wow this place is huge, there’ll be so many opportunities for walking around and drifting and exploring it.”

I’m “mentoring” a couple of students and I have even been known to employ the peripatetic method when discussing things with them. I think they find it winningly eccentric, or at least eccentric. 

But the odd thing and the interesting thing is that once you’ve walked round the campus even once you realize it isn’t nearly as big as you thought it was, and also although it certainly does have elements that are green and rolling, an incredibly high percentage of its acreage is given over to parking lots.  This seems fair enough in one way.   You’re not likely to get there without a car and you have to have somewhere to park the damn thing once you get it there. 

The campus walk will also show you that there really aren’t very many people walking around, and the few that are most likely are walking from the car to their main building or vice versa.  

On my first cursory stroll I did see what looked like an intriguing path, running through a hillside on the edge of the campus, and I saw that some graffiti had been painted on it – a face and a penis – not precisely “beyond conventional boundaries” but hey, street art gets everywhere.

So last week, before I started teaching, I decided I’d try to walk along this path.  The first, and in some ways the last, problem was finding where it started.  I didn’t much want to scramble down the hillside, if only because I thought it’d be a terrible sweat to scramble up again.

I poked, I walked, I ambled around in the scrub and finally found the start of what proved not to be a “path” after all.  It looked like this:

And it wasn’t exactly an optical illusion, more a trick of perspective, the thing I was looking at wasn’t a path at all, it was part of a concrete drainage system. And it wasn’t flat, the way it had looked from the top of the hill, but it ran at an angle, which is no doubt what you need for water runoff along a concrete drainage system.

Well I was glad to have “solved” that problem though as a walking expedition it was a bit of a bust, and of course it meant there were even fewer opportunities for walking the campus than I’d thought.  I went off to teach my class and finally found some walkers; my own students.

Later in the week, after some discussion about Thomas Bernhard, one of them

sent me this passage from Bernhard's Wittgenstein’s Nephew:

“I do not care for walks either, and have been a reluctant walker all my life. I have always disliked walking, but I am prepared to go for walks with friends, and this makes them think I am a keen walker, for there is an amazing theatricality about the way I walk. I am certainly not a keen walker, nor am I a nature lover or a nature expert. But when I am with friends I walk in such a way as to convince them I am a keen walker, a nature lover, and a nature expert. I know nothing about nature. I hate nature, because it is killing me. I live in the country only because the doctors have told me that I must live in the country if I want to survive—for no other reason. In fact I love everything except nature, which I find sinister; I have become familiar with the malignity and implacability of nature through the way it has dealt with my own body and soul, and being unable to contemplate the beauties of nature without at the same time contemplating its malignity and implacability, I fear it and avoid it whenever I can. The truth is that I am a city dweller who can at best tolerate nature. It is only with reluctance that I live in the country, which on the whole I find hostile.”

Here’s a picture of Thomas Bernhard walking, or doing something anyway.