It was not too hot on the first Friday August afternoon, traffic had yet to swell and I was in the mood for adventure, so I decided to have a go for some of Richard Artschwager’s “blps”—the pill-shaped trademark the late artist had dotted across gallery walls, public spaces, and architecture since the ’60s—a cluster of which had recently been installed in and around the eastside Los Angeles neighborhoods I have come to call home for the past few years. The artist conceived of the blps in order to encourage looking in places that might go otherwise unnoticed. They ended up doing exactly that and changed my daily experience in L.A., but initially, I thought there must be some mistake as I knew the chosen locales well and most seemed too obvious.
My first stop was the popular L&E Oyster Bar, now considered an anchor amongst Silverlake’s culinary core. As I had been there a few times, I thought I would be able to do a drive-by but after a few u-turns and no visible black lozenge, I decided to park in the adjacent 7-Eleven. I noticed the outdoor gate propped open and the chairs stacked since it was not quite open hours and the tall palm trees reflecting in the glass, as well as the newly opened upstairs area, that I have been hearing rave reviews about. Still, no sign of the blp. It was not until I took a few steps up to get a different view, turned around and there it was, in plain view, applied like a decal on the glass balcony wall. Success of the blp, it made me look!
This was immediately followed by rolling to the Dresden, the 1960s neighborhood stalwart known for its dark piano bar and cavernous nights. The imposing facade is charmingly dated, completely brick and stucco and has a black awning that protrudes into the leafy street, almost like a doorman building on Park Avenue. I looked everywhere for the blp at the Dresden. I walked up and down the sidewalk approaching from both angles, went across the street to get some distance, and still could not find a thing.
Deflated, I set out around the bend to Covell, a cozy wine bar on Hollywood Boulevard where they ask you rather curious questions to pinpoint which wine you might be in the mood for. I did a similar thing as I'd done at L&E and the Dresden. Stood and visually scoured the facade to no blp avail. So much so that I opened the door this time, and asked “where is your blp?” He laughed and said it was on the facade. Baffled and embarrassed, I stepped to the curb and looked up. There it was! Painted black on the white second story. Gave me a zing even though I did not come anywhere close to “discovery” as at L&E; here I had “cheated” and someone had given me the answer.
Time was beginning to run against me by now, so I figured I would go just a few miles down Sunset before heading back. As I approached Sun-Lake Drugs on the corner of Parkman, I spotted the blp straightaway. Followed by a parking spot that magically appeared and a meter that still had some green on it. That stretch of Sunset is so busy that it takes a few moments to catch an interval where the driver's door can open. Around the corner, where the blp was, the sun was so high that it was hard to even take the photograph to document the painted form. I squinted to find the viewfinder but wanted to make sure it was clear how the placement of this blp was not unlike the bold, painted black signage, slightly italicized ‘DRUGS’ and seamlessly folded within the loose graffitti and pay phone decorated with empty cups. This blp was placed in a time gone by, when you went to the corner pharmacist, and the pay phone was vital to communication.
Speaking of obsolescence, my next and final blp stop for the day turned out to be my favorite. Located on a stretch of Riverside Drive that I had never really noticed, Richard Artschwager did it again. I frequent Riverside nearly daily as a wonderful thoroughfare that runs parallel to the 5 freeway and the beautifully paved Los Angeles River. Just past the freeway entrance, where the neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silverlake, and Atwater Village converge, there is an area that feels like Griffith Park runoff, expansive and green. There, along with the Friendship Auditorium, you find the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, where the slogan reads: “where friends congregate” — this turns out to be an endearing discovery as a result of blp-hunting.
Just across the street from where the Breakfast Club meets is an abandoned gas station painted Tiffany blue, with remnants of a small store, dual pumps, and a carport overhang that reads `DIESEL #2’ in neon tubing. To the right of the tubing, almost to the corner edge of the structure, the blp stands.
As I cannot get close to it, I wonder whether it is smaller than the one I just saw at Sun-Lake Drugs, whether a crane was needed to install this one because of its height and the uncanny resemblance to Ruscha’s iconic Standard image, etc. Getting really jazzed by this, a strong blp-wave strikes me, and I want to finish the map in that instant, drive through the night and all around the city to make every blp count. To consider them in context of each other and my relationship to each place and the experience of getting there and getting lost around it.
Above all else, these seemingly familiar places were in fact, places I had not seen at all. Artschwager gave new life to the familiar, slowed me down to focus on the small but important beauties of our everyday landscape.
"Richard Artschwager blps" is a collaboration between the Hammer Museum and LAND. Explore “Richard Artschwager!” on Artsy, and visit the exhibition on view at the Hammer Museum through September 1st, 2013.