September 16, 2010

Tapped Out

About a year ago I was driving Wilshire and saw some guys in a lift doing maintenance on a brick building in Koreatown. A monster wall, about 15 stories high, was being painted white. I knew the wall had previously been used for ads because I drive that stretch quite often, so I couldn't figure out why they needed to paint underneath. Later that night I drove by again, glanced upward, and pulled over -- the "maintenance crew" had already finished a quarter of a pint glass in full, photo-real, detail. I remember sitting there for a second trying to figure out how they were doing this, as if the notion of painting on such a large scale had somehow faded away along with the vintage advertisements on bricks on downtown walls.

By the next day all that was left was a beer ad on a building. No crew, no lift, no brushes, just a big picture of a glass with a red logo. Nobody stopping to admire the work, nobody praising the artists, just a gentle reminder of happy hour. For the general public, the ad was no more a work of art than the billboard hanging below it. But for those of us lucky enough to catch the painters in action and be a part of something, those bricks became a canvas, and that "maintenance crew" became masters. These blue-collar Michelangelos have their Sistine Chapels painted over monthly, and ask for nothing but a steady pay check in return. Here's to them.