In the late ’80’s I used to have a friend who lived near Little Ethopia, around Pico and Fairfax. We used to take the RTD from Lennox and get off in the Picfair Village (Pico/Fairfax), once home to the historic Picfair Theatre that opened in 1941 and was torched during the 1992 riots. The community is known for its Spanish Colonial and Art Deco homes, and was once home to the famed crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. A few blocks east of Fairfax on Pico sits one of the most breathtaking street murals in the city, a portrait of a chicana with a combination of script-like symbols in the background. The artist, fellow Westsider and L.A. native known as Retna from AWR and MSK, who is of African-American, Cherokee, and Salvadoran descent has created an original alphabet direclty inspired by Incan, Egyptian, Arabic and Hebrew hieroglyphics, Asian calligraphy, and graffiti.
Central to Retna’s work are the neighborhood gang and cultural influences that surrounded him growing up, specifically the elegance of old english lettering used by cholos and the Los Angeles Times. He started with that type of font, then he transitioned to the typical graffitti wild style and lettering, then he began to combine the two. It is the classic story of combining your roots and not abandoning your traditions or background. Like other artists who have used their cultural landscapes to inspire their work and break out into more high-brow mediums, Retna had his first solo show in New York last year and has since been commissioned to do work in London, Los Angeles, and Miami. I’ve seen some of his other murals throughout the city, which I will bring you in the future, so let’s be proud and recognize one of our very own local artists disseminating our street culture around the world.
While you’re around the Picfair Village enjoying the mural, don’t forget to stop by the Paper or Plastik Cafe across the street. It has only been open for about three years, but it has quickly become a neighborhood staple and social destination for conversation and creativity, catering to artists and admirers alike. While I was there, I had a conversation about literature and writing, the couple next to me were talking about editing manuscripts, the people across were talking about music publishing, and some Italian dudes were talking about…Italian stuff. I felt right at home. It is a family-owned business run by an Israeli couple and their daughter who immigrated to the U.S. twenty years ago. The outside seating area is like a rugged park with iron benches and steel furnaces surrounded by plants, while the interior industrial design is filled with exposed rafters, pipes, brick walls, and a wooden staircase with a wrought iron railing and a mezzanine that overlooks the cafe. I don’t know much about coffee, but the food and atmosphere were amazing.