The competitive, often territorial world of street art has long been male-dominated. Increasingly, however, women artists are adding a distinct sensibility to the street art scene that, in Los Angeles and other cities, includes yarn bombing (or graffiti knitting) and sculptural installations as well as traditional murals.
At Daniel Lahoda's downtown LALA Gallery, original paintings, prints and sculptures by more than a dozen women street artists are the focus of a new exhibition opening Aug. 9. Some participants are internationally known, such as Tokyo native Lady Aiko, now living in Brooklyn, and New York-based Swoon, who was part of MOCA's 2011 "Art in the Streets" show. Others, like L.A.'s Kim West, are newer to the scene but developing national reputations. West's newest mural, still in progress on East 3rd Street in the downtown Arts District, features cave painting-style buffaloes and the vibrant color washes seen in much of her work.
"The street art movement has legitimized a lot over the past few years, but it's still rare to see women expressing themselves in public art," Lahoda says. "It's something to be celebrated, which is why we're having this show."
Here are three L.A.-based up-and-comers to watch from the LALA exhibition:
Paige Smith creates gem-like sculptures she calls "urban geodes." The 31-year-old tucks clusters of jewel-toned or metallic stalactite-like deposits into the nooks and crannies of buildings around town where they discretely shimmer in the sun.
"I describe them as architectural mineral formations," says Smith, who studied graphic design at Texas Tech. Some of her paper or resin geodes are wedged into abandoned pipes, others in cracks between bricks. Last year she filled a telephone-less pay-phone kiosk on 7th Street downtown with jagged geodes.
"It's been really cool," Smith says. "People hunt for them and interact with them. I tend to be pretty shy about my work, and this was a way for me to get out and start interacting with the world on a larger scale."
Allison Torneros, a.k.a. "Hueman," is a 27-year-old downtown L.A.-based Expressionist painter who puts up murals all over Los Angeles, from Little Tokyo to Venice Beach. Though she studied design at UCLA, she's a self-taught painter. Her mural at Rose Avenue and 4th Street in Venice — a close-up of a woman's open mouth painted freestyle with a purple-and-aqua backdrop, with roses for the woman's eyes added later — sparked a fluid mural aesthetic she's still building.
Her solo show, "Ritual," opens at downtown's Think Tank Gallery the evening of July 11 and will feature an on-site mural installation that she started painting on June 30.
"I've always been influenced by graffiti," Torneros says. "I've always wanted to get up on the streets, but I was really intimidated because it's so male-driven. Now, when I paint outside rather than at a computer, I feel human."
Lydia Emily, a.k.a. "Lydiaemily," grew up in many places, including New Zealand, Berlin, Istanbul in Turkey, New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles. As an oil painter and muralist, she's known for her portraiture work; and she often focuses on social injustices as well as figures in Tibet, Africa and the Middle East. Most recently, the 42-year-old mother of two completed a skid row anti-sex trafficking mural, "Jessica's Story," sponsored by Gucci's Chime for Change charity.
"When I started doing oil painting, no gallery would show my work — it was too political," Emily says. "So I did color printouts or hand paintings and put them up on walls by the side of the freeway or down alleys — it was political activism more than anything else."
Now Emily shows her work at many of the galleries that previously wouldn't return her phone calls, she says. "Because of my mural work, I'm more visible."
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Allison Torneros solo "Ritual" exhibition at Think Tank Gallery runs July 11 through July 27. Opening reception is July 11, 7-11 p.m. LALA Gallery's survey of women street artists runs Aug. 9 through Sept. 5. Opening reception is Aug. 9, 7-11 p.m.