During one of our now customary Thursday beach walks, I mentioned to my friend Marie my idea to do a post on LA street art, and that I had to start driving around with a camera. What followed left me slightly speechless: Marie rattled off names and locations of murals all over the city, names and websites of graffiti artists and I felt I was walking next to a living catalogue of graffiti art. Back in her office, she sent me dozens and dozens of photos she has been taking over the last few months, a compendium on who is “dirtying” LA walls everywhere (for which I am forever grateful, sparing me miles and gas).
The reason I was surprised is that Marie’s job, when she is not snapping around town, is Conservator of Antiquities.
When, a few days ago, the world was alerted to the discovery of Richard III’s bones in a parking lot in Leicester, I stared in amazement at the perfectly preserved skeleton, in all his scoliosis glory, and at the facial reconstruction based on his bone structure and existing paintings. All of sudden, I wanted to know everything there was to know about Richard III, beyond what Shakespeare taught me. And it got me thinking of when I used to wander into Marie’s lab, at the world-famous museum where she works – I was always amazed and moved by the statues, vessels, jewellery or even mosaics she was painstakingly cleaning or mending or analyzing. I will never get over how much is possible to tell from a thousand-year old object.
For a moment, it struck me as odd that someone who has dedicated her professional life to ancient art – Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan – could be so attracted to such an impermanent art form, one which is hotly debated in the city we live in, with different camps arguing on its value and preservation. But is it really so odd? A 2,000 year old vase we stare at in awe today was used to carry water. Murals decorated Roman households the way swaths of walls everywhere are now painted in the middle of the night by faceless artists.
On one of our subsequent walks, I asked Marie what it meant to her to go to work and be part of history on a daily basis:
“It is an amazing experience to work so intimately with ancient art and be the one responsible for its care and preservation. Working with art in this capacity is humbling, moving and very exciting. You feel a connection to the past and are honored to play a part in its future.
I have always loved art and wanted to become a fine artist. After years painting, drawing and creating all forms of art, it was apparent I did not have what it took to be successful. Just before graduating with a BA in art history, I explored the careers I could potentially pursue….and it was then I realized I wanted to get my hands dirty”
Who knows, maybe 2,000 years from now, a future Marie will be painstakingly cleaning a Bansky or a Farto on an excavated wall somewhere.
In the meantime, I (and surely thousands like me) relish in turning a corner and finding an unexpected work of art on our way to work or in the middle of our daily drudgery. Some are playful, some political and some deeply personal. But, undoubtedly, they are art.