In April, I wrote a blog that introduced my Urban Rothkenbergs–accidental masterpieces that people or natural forces leave all over the blank and busy canvases of city surfaces from sidewalks to signs and alleyway walls.
I intended to post blog entries sharing what recent beauties I’d stumbled across each month, but my last year of college sprung up like a little green weed in the cracks between two concrete slabs: Lots of pressure, little personal space, still some pretty decent growth.
Beyond aesthetics, here’s what I’ve found in posting an Urban Rothkenberg almost daily since April–how the art, my process, and I have evolved:
I hated Los Angeles. I was ready to escape it as quickly as I could. Ready to burrow away in some small town where people looked like me, thought like me, did the same things as me. I was, in fact, in Niland, Calif., a small and deserted town on the way out from Borrego Springs (which is withering away amidst this awful drought, by the way) when I started my Instagram account and shared images from an abandoned recycling plant near the town’s center.
I shared one at a time here and there, attaching clever titles or lines, none of them particularly related to the other. The feed was pretty random. One day could be a warm hue, the next could be cool or neutral. But as life became more chaotic, I started wanting more order to my feed. I suppose it’s that I wanted to control something if I felt I was the one controlled by a work schedule and heavy course load.
I started posting sets of three in October working with what I had. Usually one or two shots of one surface I found particularly appealing. The problem was that these images looked repetitive and I can’t seem to stand repetition.
I began hunting for walls, driving down the streets I used to consider ugly, or dangerous or scary. These urban expeditions became my first adventures with my new car, Scout, the Elemental Adventuremobile. They also became therapy, and as I continued to work on my and change my craft, I was really working on and changing myself. I looked at the surfaces of both myself and the walls from afar, and also zoomed into their details.
The images of the messy and imperfect surfaces on the screen of my phone helped me to look at the messy and imperfect surface of my emotions. The words I began pairing with the photos became little expressions of wants or desires that sometimes I’d been too afraid to let myself own, nonetheless share with 90-some strangers watching my account.
Since April, I’ve come to love this city and myself a lot more. I no longer see these streets as dangerous or dirty. I no longer see my desires or my own power that way, either. The variance in the city’s walls and finding beauty in them when flawed, cracked, and filthy, helped me to appreciate the differences of the people who live in the areas where these textured treasures are most abundant. The people in these communities that I’ve run into have been masterpieces themselves and have taught me very valid real-life lessons–some not the prettiest, but all imperative to my internal collection.
At the beginning, Urban Rothkenberg was a collection of what I was seeing in the world. Now it’s a more intimate portrait of my own evolving relationship with the city, myself, my desires, and the people I encouter, if only for a brief moment.