What happened to the Crenshaw Cowboy?

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A Los Angeles street artist fends off city sanitation crews while bringing his eclectic sculptures and positive messages to the public.

A Los Angeles street artist named Lovell Moore has been entertaining thousands of motorists with his trash sculptures, dance moves and motivational signs for years.

But earlier this month, he disappeared along with his sculptures from his usual spot on the 10 freeway on-ramp at Crenshaw Boulevard.

Neither the Los Angeles Police Department, the Sanitation Department nor Caltrans will take responsibility for removing his work. And now he is back on the freeway on-ramp, at least for a while.

Independent producer Gideon Brower has been following the ups and downs of Moore’s creative life.

Lovell Moore wears his “Creative Alien” sculpture. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When I first met Lovell Moore in June, he showed me around a fantastical spaceship, maybe 20 feet long, that he’d made out of an old office chair and lawn recliner, crutches wrapped in tinfoil, broken vertical fans, old vacuum cleaners and car parts. The figurehead of the ship was a plastic rocking horse. Lovell told me that this piece, called “Time Machine,” was inspired by military aircraft, though he imagined it being used for peaceful purposes.

Some people call Lovell the airplane man, or the Art Guy, but because he sometimes wears a cowboy hat and a long Western-style duster coat, most people know him as the Crenshaw Cowboy. For eleven years, he’s spent most days out here on this on-ramp, building sculptures from a sprawling array of trash.

Lovell Moore’s “Time Machine.” (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Drivers occasionally stop to give Lovell food or money (not that he asks for either one), or things they think he could use for his art. They’ve also contributed car parts to Lovell’s work, although those donations are usually involuntary.

“This area here, there’s lots of car crashes,” Lovell told me. “And when they tow the car away – ‘Oh, wow, I’m glad nobody got hurt. You know, I can use that part right there.”

Lovell’s art practice has included making signs that he posts on a utility pole or leans against the fence of the neighboring car wash, or just props up on the sidewalk. He’s also known for his Michael Jackson-style popping and moonwalking.

At 61, Lovell has hints of white in his beard and a hitch in his step, but his dancing is bold and sometimes incorporates his sculptures, like the Creative Alien. It’s a robot made from a white plastic laundry basket, an old hubcap, crutches, car parts, springs and electronics. It can be worn as a costume while you’re dancing.

Lovell first started trying to dance like Michael back in North Carolina. He was one of seven boys raised by a single mother. At 17, Lovell joined the Marines and spent four years traveling around the world. He says he moved to Los Angeles around 1980, and he had his own handyman business before he wound up on the streets, making his art.

Over the summer, I saw Lovell’s roadside showroom expand: more robots, a decorated guitar, new messages posted around. But when I drove by in early September, the Crenshaw Cowboy and all of his work had gone. When I tracked Lovell down, he told me that city workers in two trash trucks, along with LAPD officers, had arrived a few days after he put up a new sign saying that his work was for sale.

“It said, ‘Sculpture and writing from the mind of the Crenshaw Cowboy,’” Lovell said. “That made it a business.”

DnA contacted the LAPD, to see what laws Lovell had broken and why his work was removed. They told us it was the Sanitation Department that moved his stuff. But the Sanitation Department said it wasn’t them, it was Caltrans. We reached out to Caltrans and they said they didn’t remove any items from the top of the on-ramp. So who did do it? Right now, it’s a mystery.

Lovell Moore and his airplane. Photos by Gideon Brower.

Lovell says he has had his stuff scooped up and thrown away before. Each time, he’s bounced back and returned to the on-ramp. But for the Crenshaw Cowboy, losing many months of work is a setback. After eleven years, he says, it might be time to saddle up and ride away.

“I was named the Crenshaw Cowboy by the 10 Freeway,” Lovell told me. “So that was programmed in my subconscious, you are the Crenshaw Cowboy by the 10 Freeway. I’m gonna get my mind together so I can be done with it. Cause you know, it’s time to really basically move on.”

Update: Gideon went back to the freeway this week, and guess what, Lovell Moore is back. For the moment, he’s producing new work in an art studio owned by mid-City Neighborhood Council board member Nick Spano. He’s been returning to the on-ramp for a few hours at a time, to perform and show off some of his smaller pieces.