A gallery walk on the wild side
A photographer chronicles Los Angeles' underground street art scene
Late on a Tuesday night — or, more accurately, very early on a Wednesday morning — photographer Jimmy Hickey is tucked into an old Ford Bronco, zipping through the streets of Los Angeles with several up-and-coming street artists. The first building they reach overlooks a city street that will soon be bustling with people starting their day. From the sidewalk a passerby could easily look up and notice the masked and bandana-clad young men perched high above.
But no one is awake to notice. For these few hours, the city belongs to them.
Banksy, the graffiti artist cum enigma, may be a well-known staple of the scene, but many more aspiring street artists roam cities such as Los Angeles, looking for the perfect facades to showcase their talents.
"(Photographing them) was very eye-opening," Hickey says. "I understand now why these guys do it, and I admire their craft. It's been crazy to see some of the guys blow up over the past few years as well. There are so many untold stories out there, so many things happening, all while the city sleeps."
For these artists, a sense of adventure — a willingness to play tag with the law — is a must. But the opportunity to present their artistic vision to millions in a unique, in-your-face way is the ultimate payoff. And for many artists, that fear of discovery only adds to the fun, offering an extra layer of urgency as they complete their projects.
Putting up huge works without anyone noticing is a challenge, of course. Hickey watched the artists toss towels over lights to darken the scene, don construction outfits to throw off any passersby, and even time their movements with those of a security guard below.
"Some of the billboard (projects) were especially intense because there's nothing to block the view from people below," Hickey says. "It was a very intense feeling. Most of these guys are pretty laid back, until it's time to get serious. No one wants to get in trouble with the law, and they know one mistake can land them somewhere they don't want to be."
To hide their identities, most of the artists Hickey followed wear masks or bandanas. The rest simply step into the darkness, the best disguise of all.