The Secrets of L.A. Street Art: Bumblebee, Sharktoof and Linelinedot Discuss Their Work
1. The Boy From Downey: Bumblebee
Street art isn't very big in Downey. "People go to work, go to school, do it all over again," Bumblebee says. "Growing up, you know you're an artist, but you're told not to be one. It's all building up inside of you."
Bumblebee, who uses his old childhood nickname, began by putting up childishly crafted beehives in empty phone booths. His work now consists mostly of children in yellow and black-striped shirts, and it's marked by a soft, understated touch.
"Bumblebee is among the most endearing and charming artists out there," says Stefan Kloo, an observer of L.A. street art. "His pieces always have a really nice subtlety. He's not in your face at all."
His newer pieces are all legal, outdoor murals -- he hasn't done illegal street art in nearly a year. His most recent piece is on the wall of a hair salon in Downey, Bumblebee's hometown return as conquering hero. It even made the newspaper.
"All these years, I've been trying to get Downey to be with me, not against me," he says. "I wanted to make it nice."
2. The Modernist: Linelinedot
He started out as just another tagger under the name of Gumby, working the streets in Culver City. "It was pretty much my life," Linelinedot says. "It was a gateway into art, and learning about fine art."
Then he moved to downtown Los Angeles and started going to the huge Central Library, where one day he picked up a book by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, Point and Line to Plane. He began thinking about his work analytically.
"I broke it down, broke down graffiti to what it really was," he says. "Letters are symbols. Lines and dots."
His pieces are just that, painted and wheat-pasted on city walls that, often, simply blend in. "Even among street-art aficionados, his pieces are very easily missed," Kloo says. "It's super-minimalist and delightfully subversive."
There aren't many pieces by Linelinedot out there -- he's been busy attending Art Center of Pasadena, studying not art theory but, curiously, advertising. He still plans to continue his street art -- clandestinely, of course.
"I feel weird calling it street art," he says. "I still call it graffiti."
3. The Character: Sharktoof
Sharktoof used to tag under the name Myser1 and his claim to fame dates to 1992, when one of his tags showed up in an episode of Baywatch.
He went to art school, focusing on fine art and traditional oil painting. But teachers kept telling him to incorporate his graffiti into his work.
For the next decade or so, he struggled with how much he should separate the two. "I'm very critical about my art," he says. "My fine art is very personal."
In 2006, he decided to create a different persona for his street art. His trademark would be an angry shark.
"I come from the old school of graffiti," he says. "I grew up with a lot of dissing -- crossing out each other's names. I thought, 'What would be the ultimate comeback as a diss?' I could paint a giant shark eating someone's tag. I could do it quickly."
His work draws on 1950s-era pulp imagery, references to old horror moves and a peculiar distaste for cigarette smoking. It's funny -- one of the key goals of his street persona.
"Sharktoof allowed me to be a spectator, a character," he says. "It allows me to be removed and appreciate it."