Sunday, June 10, 2012

Art along the staircases

The hidden treasures of a city aren't always remote or tucked
away. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight, like the public stairwells of Los Angeles. A relic of our mass transit era, these stairs offered direct access to bus and rail lines for the residents of hilly neighborhoods. As you might guess, the auto industry ultimately negated the stairs' relevance; but they have since undergone a popular revival. Partly responsible is Charles Fleming, a staircase aficionado who published a guidebook to LA's historic stairwells in 2010. It has opened doors for exploration.

Scattered throughout the East and Westsides of the city, an   impressive network of stairs will lead you up and down hillsides and through eclectic neighborhoods. The stairwells and interspersing walkways are so rich with foliage you may forget you're in the middle of a metropolis. The stunning views are a happy reminder of this, while the burn in your calves will measure how far you've climbed.

Best of all, the routes are teeming with art and history. A  recent walk took me past Rudolph Valentino's home in Whitley Heights, a Mediterranean-style neighborhood built in the 1920s. (Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich used to live here, too.) I ogled over the remnants of old Hollywood, not to mention the visual pleasures. On a walk near the Hollywood sign I passed a towering medieval archer, painted on the facade of a home. It was not out of context, either: the house was modeled after a castle. Some homes later, I discovered a lifesize statue of a Hindu god meditating. The smorgasbord of style and taste was enchanting.

The artistic charm of these tucked-away communities isn't always overt. There are quiet accessories like Victorian-style crown molding, colorful mosaic floor tiles and beautifully-carved support systems. The doorways are magnificent, too. Some look like the threshold to a medieval fortress, while others are daintily decorated with woodcarvings and inlaid materials like glass or tile. Looking every which way I felt like a shifty-eyed sleuth, sniffing out the subtle details that were so plentiful.

To put it simply, staircase walks provide a respite from the daily grind, not to mention the daily grime, of the city. If the scenery starts to bore you, add an element of suspense to your adventure. Try stealing an orange from someone's tree; you just might get accosted by their rabid dog. RUN, but make sure to catch the house with the year-round Christmas tree on your way out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plato's cave, look out

What do you get when you cross an artist with a library? ...A cave! Okay, let me explain. I was recently welcomed into the home of artist and actor Leigh McCloskey and his lovely wife, Carla, for a film screening. Leigh is a spiritual man, very gestural and easily possessed by his ideas. In a word, he is impassioned. His library-turned-cave is a perfect example.

Leigh, shortly after 9/11, decided a re-structuring of the world was in order. His solution? To turn his library into a celestial, cosmic space laden with paintings of sacred feminines and metaphysical imagery. But it's a little more complex than that. While I can't do justice to Leigh's process, in summary he sees great importance in the intersection of humanity and the universe at large. He believes that we have lost touch with our interconnectedness; that we have become critics and not creators, and the remedy for this is reconnecting with the extra-human realm.

His vision has manifested into something spectacular. The ceilings, walls and floors of his library are all painted in a royal blue. Fluorescent figures, symbols and shapes float through the space. Lilith and Eve make an appearance amidst radiant bursts of light and figures with glowing halos. No feature or accessory has been ignored either. Even the spines of books are painted. So is the couch, including the underside of the cushions. A freestanding column beside the couch has an image of Eve swirling around it. There is a bowl resting atop the column that Leigh says represents Eve's chalice. He doesn't miss a thing. I can't help but imagine him painting in some entranced reverie, initiating every object or fixture into his little blue world.

And while the images and motifs seem kind of chaotic, according to Leigh they actually reflect a method. Everything in the room plays off one another, sort of like a map of the universe.

If you are wondering why Leigh calls this space a cave, it has to do with the primordial nature of its namesake. Caves harken back to a time when humans were more connected with themselves and the universe. Whether you experience a 70s throwback or an otherworldly dimension on this visit, the sensory experience is palpable. It's too bad Plato's prisoners didn't have colorful digs like this.

[Photo courtesy of Leigh McCloskey's website:]