Our Art Director has another interview this month about his art project in Westwood.
Have you noticed the decorated utility boxes around Westwood?
These are the first of several utility box designs sanctioned by the Westwood Neighborhood Council. The boxes are part of a beautification movement to promote the neighborhood. They caught my eye on my morning commute, and the Westwood Village Instagram account connected me with the esteemed artist, Illustrator Eric Rosner.
I sat down with Eric to discuss this exciting project in the exclusive interview below. Read on to learn more about Eric’s creative vision for his new home.
Eric Rosner Westwood artist interview
You’re originally from New York. How did you make your way from NYC to Los Angeles?
Well I came unwillingly from NY because rents were going too high and my wife had some opportunities in the entertainment industry out here. She got into stop motion animation, and she’s worked with Nickelodeon. So we sold a bunch of stuff, packed up the rest, and relocated to LA. We stayed in Mar Vista initially, and then settled in Westwood.
It was challenging for the first year, but I found some clients in Santa Monica, Venice, and Beverly Hills. I also landed a part-time teaching position at UCLA—I’m an adjunct professor in the graphic arts department. I teach courses for motion graphics and animation/illustration. This quarter I’m teaching on After Effects and Adobe Illustrator. And in the last two years, LA has really grown on me. I went from being an LA hater to an LA lover. I love the chaos of New York, but LA has its own fascinating stories to tell.
You’ve been commissioned by the Westwood Village Improvement Association to decorate utility boxes around the neighborhood. Can you tell us more about the project and its goals?
I met a fellow parent at my son’s school who knew someone on the Westwood Village Improvement Association committee. The committee members were interested in my art, and wanted to figure out a way to incorporate it into a campaign promoting the community. I wanted to do revisions of old tourism posters at first, but that didn’t happen. It actually took about 2 years to get the current utility box project together.
Utility boxes are unsightly and old; I’m sure most people will agree with that sentiment. The committee decided to do a project around them to beautify the neighborhood. Other areas in LA were having artists paint utility boxes, and I didn’t want to go that route. So I proposed vinyl pieces that would wrap around the boxes like posters.
I went around Westwood to learn its history, and discovered a statue that seemed to be lost in time. I focused on that as a hero piece; I believe it’s a French sculpture that’s many decades old. I wanted to modernize the timeless scenes and architecture, but maintain their original character. I like to take old artworks and modernize them. I proposed that direction for the Fox Theater and Bruin buildings, and the committee loved that idea. So we moved forward after their approval.
The Westwood Village city council people were very happy with the pieces I’ve done so far. They liked the look because it highlights the city itself. All of LA is really unique communities, and they’re all in a sense competing for people’s attention and for reputations. Certain areas want to be known as artist enclaves, for example. Westwood didn’t have a distinct identity, so this more organic work appeals in an in your face way. One of the project’s main goals was to catch people’s eye as they drive by Westwood Village. I think we achieved that, and this interview serves as a testament to success on that front. You saw the boxes and were intrigued enough to photograph them. Mission accomplished! No one else is taking a utility box project in this direction, so I think it will make a big impact on Westwood as the work progresses.
What advantages do you see to applying the artwork with vinyl as opposed to painting directly on the boxes?
I believe the vinyl pieces will last longer, and there’s less chance of damage or fading. If anything happens to the artwork, the vinyl can be reapplied fairly easily.
You’re incorporating pop art into your artistic interpretations of local architecture. Take us through your research and creative process in fusing realism with pop art.
I always do research on neighborhoods and buildings before I begin. A friend gave me a book about Westwood, and I learned a lot about its history as an automotive center. There were at one time big pedestals around Wilshire Blvd. for gas stations with mascots. The idea at the time was to promote the neighborhood as a kind of brand new planned community for the future. Westwood was going to be very suburban in its character. It was supposed to be an idyllic setting, one of the first planned suburbs on the Westside of LA.
I studied that historical stuff, and focused my work on the most prominent buildings as well as some that were torn down. Now people often remark that you can simply take a picture of these buildings rather than illustrate them. Yet a photograph just wouldn’t convey the ascension concept that I see as central to Westwood’s identity, the idea of working towards the future. Back in the 1950s, people were fixated on the future, and that kind of got lost over the next few decades. So I took the opportunity to combine architecture, people, and stories with the notion of ascension and acceleration. I try to drive home the idea of the community as uplifting, moving towards the future. The angles I chose are intense on purpose so as to convey strength. I think this really fits given UCLA’s prominence and the students who populate the area.
You’ve said before that you believe Westwood is ‘going back up again’. Where do you see the community going in the next few years, as far as arts are concerned?
What I was reading about Westwood is that it was THE area on the Westside for a few years. It’s definitely coming back now as a bustling college area with unique stores and restaurants. It’s beautiful and I think the art projects will separate it from other neighboring areas. The more diverse it is, the more people will gravitate towards it.
You can create something interesting, and people will flock to it. I mean, all of a sudden, you’ve created a destination for people to come to. I’ll give you an example. In NY, SoHo was an industrial area that got loaded with art galleries because it was inexpensive. Then all of a sudden, this area no one wanted to live in became fancy and desirable because artists were doing something different. My thoughts are to recreate this phenomenon in Westwood.
I think the most important thing is for Westwood to keep innovating. People will want to come to see Westwood because it’s one of a kind. But if you do the same thing as every other part of LA, then no one will pay attention. You have to take risks and give people a reason to come visit, to want to move here. Maybe what you do will spark a new movement. If you do a lot of teasers to get people excited, they will respond. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen.
Thank you, Eric, for sharing your talents and insights. Eric’s got his eyes on other Westside communities for similar beautification projects, including Santa Monica. We hope officials will embrace his ideas. If you want to bring Eric’s art to the streets of Santa Monica, be sure to let your local council members know.
Love Eric’s work? He’s available for commissioned pieces or you can purchase items from his online store. Contact Eric via email at rosner1 AT mac DOT com.http://www.gibsonintl.com/blog/2016/03/29/eric-rosner-interview-westwood/