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DOWNEY - If you've been puzzling over the gentle, wistful images of young children that seem to appear randomly on walls around town, your questions are about to be answered - at least in part.
On Sunday, Aug. 19 at 7 pm, the Epic Lounge will host a screening of a documentary film about the elusive Downey street artist who signs his work "bumblebeelovesyou." The children he paints vary in size, according to where they are placed, but they are nearly always seen wearing some piece of clothing with the signature colors of yellow and black, and are often attended by friendly bees.
The location of the whimsical figures is also a hallmark of the message and work of the artist known as Bumblebee. The renderings bestow a touch of love and loveliness to walls of unused buildings or walls beside vacant lots.
Downey videographer Julian Park was so touched by the sensitive figures that he made it his mission to track down the artist. Connecting through email, Park asked if the artist would like to tell his story. The answer was yes, so long as his face is always obscured and his name is never revealed.
Bumblebee has not said whether he will be present at the Sunday showing, but he and his collaborators hope the event will prompt reflection and discussion about the role of art, and public art, in society.
"The work is the celebrity," Park says, "not the person."
Smaller pieces of Bumblebee's water colors and sculpture will be on display and available for sale.
What emerges from Park's film is the not uncommon story of someone who felt discouraged from pursuing art as a career, but could no longer ignore his inner drive to create.
"I felt artistic in school," Bumblebee explains, "but I also felt I was getting the message that you couldn't do art for a living."
After following the only path that he felt he could, Bumblebee has come into his own now as a mature artist, with gallery showings that include sculptures, paintings, and installations. "I've been fortunate to be one of the artists who sells his work," he acknowledges. He views his street art as a gift to the community, and his art sales help finance this gift.
"I love the city where I live," Bumblebee affirms. "It made me the artist that I am today. But I want to change it in a positive way and make people aware that there is this creative energy all around us."
He says that his family's views progressed from initial doubt and embarrassment to genuine support when they realized the positive response throughout the community to the loving images he scatters around town.
Definition of Street Art
Bumblebee's outdoor work is termed street art, not to be confused with graffiti or tagging that marks a territory. He terms this type of art "site-specific," meaning that the images complement, or are in some way appropriate, to the location in which they are placed.
"It is collaboration between the artist and the environment," he explains. Each piece is an expensive and arduous process. One-of-a-kind stencils are premade and cut by hand, paint is acquired, and equipment is lugged to the site.
His latest creation, called "Slices," is right in the heart of downtown Downey, and she is hard to miss. Just off of Second Street, on the side of the building that houses the Epic Lounge, where the documentary will be shown, is an 18-foot high figure of a young girl trying to cut her own hair. The sign for the neighboring hair salon appears close by her right shoulder.
After receiving permission from the building owner and its commercial tenants, the artist and a crew assembled one night to paint the image that was projected on the wall. Mike Gavica, proprietor of LA Buns next door, said they started about 8:30 pm and it was fun to watch.
Observers reported that police checking on the group to verify permission seemed to enjoy the spirit of the moment as much as the other bystanders.
Sadly, the very nature of street art means that it is often ephemeral. It is work of sudden vision and inspiration by artists who do not bother with submitting proposals or getting consensus from a commission.
Each public work of Bumblebee is an act of faith that someone will see it and be touched before it is painted over.
Last March, DowneyDailyPhotos.com published a photo of just such a moment with a young girl posing next to a ballerina painted on a freestanding brick wall in an abandoned lot. Her mother is seen kneeling in the foreground to snap a picture.
The wall is still standing amid the weeds in the lot on Dolan Avenue, but the sweet ballerina has been painted over.
The questions about permission and rules are legitimate, but many citizens also feel there should be discussion about what is public art, its role, and whether communities should find a way to encourage and protect it.
Bumblebee has accomplished what many artists only dream of - the work is immediately arresting, and provokes a myriad of thoughts all at once: who put that there? why is it there? what a beautiful image! Some people drive around the block to get a second look, or pull over and get out of their car to study the work at length.
It's been a year, according to Bumblebee, since he's done anything without permission. But it may still be a while before he is willing to reveal his identity. He wants people to focus on his work and its implications.
Community of Values
Bumblebee and film-maker Park did not know each other growing up in Downey, but it is clear that the two share a community of values. Themes of love, kindness, and sharing dominate the work of both Park and his subject.
Park's website solicits ideas for projects with the explanation, "We want to offer our services to be a voice for the voiceless."
Like Bumblebee, Park has not followed a "traditional" career path. After studying writing at California State University at Long Beach, Park turned to work that focuses on meaningful, personal projects.
Park is modest about his film-making and describes it as a "hobby" started in high school, but his body of work includes a compelling short about a project to maintain a public school for elementary children in the slum of Lenana in Nairobi, Kenya. The film is titled "Standard 8" after the exam that the students must pass.
Park is proud of his documentary's use in raising money for the school, but he is also astoundingly casual about the personal risk he experienced during its production.
In October 2010, at the invitation of a classmate from Warren High, Eddo Kim, who had started a non-profit to serve children who had little or no access to education, Park flew to Nairobi where he and an associate spent a week filming the students and teachers.
On their last day of shooting, they ignored their usual practice of leaving the neighborhood before nightfall. As they were being escorted out of the area by supporters of the school, Park and his associate were robbed at gunpoint of all their equipment.
Park says the school's supporters were beaten as they tried to protect the equipment. Nonetheless, he was undeterred from doing what he could to complete the project. Even before he returned home, the story was broadcast on the web.
Within three months $8,000 had been raised to replace the equipment, and Park returned to Lenana to film for a week once again. By March 2011, the 30-minute film was complete and available for screening at various universities to raise funds for the school.
Park's sound editor Joseph Kim is a longtime friend from school in Downey. The two worked on films since high school, and last year Kim also turned away from a traditional career as a CPA to work on music and film scoring.
The two filmmakers hope the one night screening of "Bumblebee" will attract all people with creative interests and be an opportunity to discuss trends across all genres of art.
"Bumblebee" will show at 7 p.m., Sunday, at the Epic Lounge, 8239 Second Street. Park's film "Standard 8" can be viewed at handimade.org.
Published: August 16, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 18