Tito’s Tacos. La Taquiza. Pink’s.
Just saying the names of these eateries can get plenty of Angelenos’ mouths watering. For the grease, meat, tortilla and bun lovers of the city, the taco and hot dog joints dotting L.A. streets quickly become favorites known through word of mouth: There’s only one Tito’s Tacos in the city, but out-of-towners will make the commute to the famous L.A. locale to grub on the culinary treats.
Food, then, is a huge part of the city. When you see a sign for one of these famous eateries, you automatically think Los Angeles. This theme rings especially true in artist Restitution Press’ latest show, “Restitution Taco,” up now at C.A.V.E. Gallery. The artist, also known as Ryan Graeff, teamed up with website L.A. Taco to focus on the huge presence of taco trucks, restaurants and other food services in the city.
The show’s pieces include iconic signs from these locales, but also go beyond tacos to include other familiar images of the city, like Pink’s Hot Dogs. Here, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Broadway Boulevard, street lamps and more come together to create recognizable characteristics of the city.
The piece “Forever Los Angeles,” a collaboration with artist RALOS, presents a mixed media version of Los Angeles’ familiar features. The work’s colors make it feel like an evening scene, perhaps right before the moment when darkness sets in. A bridge takes over most of the composition, and the left side shows a street lamp and signs that read “Historic Downtown” and “Broadway.” Tall buildings in the background hint at the rest of the city, the skyscrapers creating the crowded atmosphere of Downtown Los Angeles. Above the urban landscape floats graffiti-esque letters spelling out “forever Los Angeles.”
The subdued colors make the piece feel like a yellowed photo from an old album, a remembrance of a city from decades ago. The phrase “forever Los Angeles” adds to the idea of looking back at a Los Angeles from another era, yet many of the images feel modern, especially in the graffiti-like parts of the piece. In other areas, bubbly letters with eyes decorate the bottom corners of the canvas and even peek out from behind the bridge. The images recall current graffiti work under fixtures such as bridges. The inclusion of graffiti lettering in the work suggests that it is an equally important signifier of the city’s personality. For street artists, a piece might disappear the very next day after going up, but Los Angeles’ walls are endless, allowing street artists to create more works of art on this bricked canvas. The city continues to inspire street artists such as Restitution Press — a fact that very much exemplifies the phrase “forever Los Angeles.”
Two colors drip across the rest of the piece, as if suggesting that all the images we see on the canvas might one day disappear — but the medium with which Restitution Press and many others create never changes. The colors in the work do not echo the realistic hues of the actual icons in their natural city environment, which makes the work very much the vision of Restitution Press. The artist transforms the cityscape into his own artistic vision, integrating familiar Los Angeles characteristics with his own color.
This also helps the work speak to artists as well as Angelenos. In the scope of art history, it’s not hard to find artists — such as Ed Ruscha — working on the iconography of the city and their own interpretation of Los Angeles as a complex metropolis. Yet every time a new vision arises, it differs from that of its predecessors. Each artist can take predictable images of the city and transform them into something that showcases his or her unique aesthetic.
“Forever Los Angeles” lends the city a feeling of timelessness. With this piece, it seems the city will live on forever, and as art continues to depict the best of the metropolis — including the best taco and hot dog joints — it most certainly will. The repetition of the arches in the bridge echoes that sentiment, as the image appears to continue outside the canvas just as the city continues outside the gallery where the piece hangs.
Now, Downtown Los Angeles serves as a hub for art both indoors and outside. Restitution Press reflects that overtaking of the city — the sense that it’s hard to walk through the streets of Downtown and not see a work of art among the expected features such as skyscrapers.
The viewers that encountered Restitution Press’ works most likely recognized a part of their city — like their favorite taco spot or even just a classic element or two of the city. If art reflects life, “Forever Los Angeles” encapsulates the idea that the city contains a unique identity that lives on through the passage of time. Though some buildings might change, the city’s potential for creativity will not. Each of the pieces in “Restitution Taco” further cements the idea that because Los Angeles presents so much for its citizens to explore, it offers a lot of inspiration for artists. With delicious tacos to munch on and a diverse cityscape to absorb, the City of Angels’ artists should find plenty to help them create.
“Restitution Taco” runs until Dec. 9 at C.A.V.E. Gallery, located at 1108 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Eva Recinos is a senior majoring in English. Her column “Two Cents A Piece” runs Tuesdays.