LA graffiti artists on display in London

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It’s not just athletes that are congregating in London. An exhibit of Los Angeles graffiti artists is on display this month.

Neon Sign, by Risk
Photo © ArtLyst 2012

The exhibition is called “Letters from America.” It features a number of LA’s most well known street artists, many of whom were featured in MOCA’s Art in the Streets show. Shepard Fairey created the UK’s largest mural, a 60 by 80 foot vintage-looking billboard with a message of free speech. Pop surrealist Ron English painted a mural with 100 humorous speech bubbles that people can take their photos next to.

“There’s a definite feel that makes it stand out as American,” said Jan Corey Helford, co-owner of Culver City’s Corey Helford Gallery, which mounted the exhibit. It’s set in the London Pleasure Gardens, a run-down, former industrial 12-acre expanse located near the Olympic grounds, that’s being transformed into a round-the-clock center for art and music.

“It’s just like a Disneyland for adults,” said Helford. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

A companion show at the Black Rat Gallery opened July 4th. L.A. artist Saber contributed three modified flags, two of the Stars and Stripes and one of the Union Jack, which he covered in gold leaf.

“It’s not desecrated, it’s not changed in any way,” said Saber. “It’s a piece that honored the national health care system.”

In fact, he later donated the artwork to Britain’s National Health Care Services. Saber said these pieces come out of his frustration with having epilepsy but lacking insurance.

Risk is the handle of another legendary L.A. graffiti artist with work in the exhibit. His pieces have both American and British cultural resonance, including a tagged-up Bob’s Big Boy statue, and a fully-painted double-decker bus.

Both Saber and Risk said their work celebrates and critiques the American dream – celebrating the freedom to speak their minds, and the ability to create a career out of making street art. But they also want to criticize things like the prison system and the War on Terror. Saber said their show’s opening just before the Olympics is an irony in itself.

“Usually when the Olympics comes into town, the first thing they go after is the graffiti,” said Saber. “And so recently they went and raided a bunch of non-active old-school graffiti guys to prove a point, that there will be no tolerated street art during the Olympics.”

Famed street artist Banksy this week revealed his own Olympic-themed artwork. It features a javelin thrower, hurling a missile.