Robert Olsen’s photo realist paintings of gas stations and city objects have gained notice among art critics and collectors alike, and we spent some time with him in his Sunset Boulevard neighbourhood. Olsen uses a photo, print and paint process to achieve accurate representations of the subjects he chooses and further personalizes the pieces by reducing the image to its most essential image; often centering the objects against a background of gradated black. Not much for the traffic of the L.A roadways, he often prefers going out in the middle of the night to photograph his gas stations and other objects, capturing a quieter side of a city perpetually on the move.

Robert took us to Tacos Delta, a taqueria close to his apartment/studio near Silverlake Hills on Sunset Blvd.  The taqueria is well known among locals-it is a place Robert frequented even before moving to the neighbourhood. It was busy when we were there and its clean and there’s a nice little table area in the back where you can sit and enjoy your inexpensive and authentic Mexican. We had a good discussion about art in general and more specifically about the nature of photo realist painting and some of the difficulties of painting in this style.

There was also a few coffee shops that Robert pointed out to us. In particular, the Casbah, a morrocan themed cafe with quality espresso.

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Jud Meyers- Sherman Oaks

September 18, 2008

Our final guide for L.A. was Jud Meyers, proprietor of Earth-2 Comics, a well known Comic shop in the Sherman Oaks area on Ventura Blvd. Almost curatorial in his approach to his shop, Jud’s knowledge of all things comics is broad and impressive. Situated close to a number of major movie studios, it’s not uncommon to find studio types in his place combing the racks for their next movie idea. A Sherman Oaks landmark, Jud’s store is situated right next door to La Frite, a quality restaurant that’s been in operation for over 30 years. Two doors down is Kung Pao, a Chinese restaurant that Jud recommends as well.

Kim Stringfellow is a photographer and media artist based in Angelino Heights, close to downtown L.A. Kim’s photographic work examines the beauty of modern ruins. Her study of the Salton Sea, a environmental “mistake’ south of Palm Springs, and later series of attempted (and failed) resorts, is a fascinating subject for her book, “Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005“.

Kim took us on a walking tour of Downtown L.A. It’s not an area people often associate with tourism or interesting places to visit when thinking about Los Angeles, and probably for that reason it was an incredibly interesting journey. The tour centered around a walk down Broadway, a once vibrant component to the L.A. scene. Lined with the largest concentration of theatres from the Art Deco period in the country, many of these places are abandoned, or now operate as pawn shops, stores for cheap t-shirts, music venues, or Hispanic B movies. Our favourite was one which had been converted into a church – Catedral de la Fe Theatre – an appropriate transformation given its movie palace past. The grandeur of these theatres has remained untempered though regardless of their current dilapidation. There definitely was a strong connection between what Kim was showing us and her work. Within this though, were some amazing little gems.

Catedral de la Fe Theatre, Los Angeles

The Grand Central Farmer’s market was chock full of good inexpensive fare, from Mexican to South East Asian. Like everything else that we’d seen previous and upcoming on our walk, there was a real authenticity to the place. Close to here is also the Angel’s Flight Railway-the shortest tram line in the country and once a favourite location for a number of Noir films shot in the 40s and 50s. Not far from here, is the Clifton Restaurant (Cafe): a fantastic and kitschy step back to another time.

Clifton's Restaurant, Los Angeles

Grand Central Farmer's Market, Los Angeles

After our tour, we talked a little more extensively about Kim’s work, and in particular about her new project, Jackrabbit Homestead, a photo essay on California’s Pioneertown, located near Joshua Tree’s National Park.

After spending some time with Kim, we did our own tour of downtown, and were pleasantly surprised with what we found. It was nice that within a city that is so car dependent that one can still find things to discover on foot . There is a rich history to downtown L.A. that has been overshadowed over the years by the  Hollywood of amusement parks and shopping districts which cater to conspicuous consumption.