Street art fair in Koreatown strives to save the Earth one mural at a time

Never before has such a grungy Koreatown alley looked so beautiful. Thanks to the efforts of passionate and dedicated local artists, Koreatown and Greater Los Angeles are looking better than ever with their creative and thought-provoking murals. This past Sunday, local street artists gathered in an alley behind Gabba Arts Gallery in Koreatown to create murals in celebration of Earth Day. These street art fairs were also part of a larger effort by the Gabba Arts District and the newly-established Street Art Brokerage Firm. The goal of this particular session was to raise awareness of California's drought crisis, to create a more appealing environment that the local community could be proud of, and to "simply celebrate Mother Earth." Artists were invited by curator Jason Ostro and street artist Andrea LaHue, who goes by the stage name of "Random Act."

LaHue, who has been painting giant flowers on buildings for several years, said the idea for the Earth Day street art fairs came after her arrest in 2013. "I needed to somehow celebrate Earth Day, which, for me, was like Christmas for my flowers, in a way that was legal," she said. In 2014, LaHue put out a call for local artists to meet up and create "Earth-inspired art," and the first annual #EarthDayStreet fair took off from there. After the success of last year's fair, she said, "This year, since it's my baby, we decided to do it again."

More than a dozen artists participated in the fair, creating murals in Downtown LA, South Central, and the Melrose District, in addition to Koreatown. They focused on water as a common theme and used the hashtags "#EarthDayStreet2015" and "#WaterLove2015" to promote their work. Each mural was done on private property with explicit permission from local residents.

Pan Pantogia and Kelsey Sweet, a pair of artists from Reno, came down to participate with the other artists, spreading the message across Los Angeles. "The idea is to clean up these spaces to keep people from tagging on the walls," Kelsey explained. Their abstract Earth Day mural read like an existential message, "Be a fish, be able to see the water."

Local street artist "Pasty White," who specializes in cityscape pieces, came down to create a second mural behind the Gabba Arts Gallery, his sixth so far. Like every other mural, Pasty's had a water theme. While he does not consider himself to be a politically-driven artist, Pasty White said he enjoys inserting touches of social commentary and humor in his work. He also introduced his partner, Hannibal also known as "Porno," and explained "[while] I kinda drive the projects, Hannibal helps me out a lot." A former theater student, "Pasty White" has been doing street art for five years, but has been involved with art for much longer. "I decided being a cooperative theater artist wasn't really for me," he said.

Another street artist, Cody Bayne, was there to contribute to the art fair and celebrate Earth Day as well. He reiterated that the project "serves to beautify and enhance the neighborhood and to bring more art and life to it." Bayne believes art can play a huge role in Earth Day. He believes it is equally important to every other day. He said the water-themed art at the fair "starts a conversation that's needed" about the importance of climate change and the impact of California's drought.

Bayne has been doing art for his whole life on the street and in the studio, and classifies his work as "Neo-Urban-Expressionism" and "New Informalist." "I take visual information and physical information [objects] and take them back to the studio to contextualize it and create a conversation," he said.

Finally, Jason Ostro, curator of the Gabba Arts Gallery, arrived on scene to observe the murals in the afternoon. The Gabba Arts Gallery was founded to give street artists all over the country a chance to feature their art legally and give them "a fair shake." After the founding of the gallery, LaHue, a close friend of Ostro, started the #EarthDayStreet project as a means to "give back to the community."

Though the Earth Day fair was relatively small, with only a few dozen people (including artists and spectators) it is part of a larger trend that appears to be making a positive difference in Southern California. "This being our second year, we've grown a little bit and have almost 40 artists painting in different areas through Los Angeles," Ostro told us. "It's kinda just growing from there. The neighbors are pretty appreciative overall and everybody seems to be happy. [We are here] just to clean up the alleys and make them safer. We're just guests, but we're trying to do our best,"