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How LA’s Street Artists Are Responding To Coronavirus

Empty streets, blank walls and an unprecedented crisis. Is it the perfect time to spread their messages?

Artist Pony Wave paints a scene depicting two people kissing while wearing face masks on Venice Beach on March 21, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The streets are often empty, coronavirus restrictions keeping many Angelenos from venturing out. But when we do, street artists have been leaving coronavirus-inspired work for us to find.

It ranges from Ruben Rojas calling for us to pull together:

To Hijack's dystopian take on cleaning:

You'll also find pieces like Rasmus Balstrøm's gas-masked figure and Teachr1's focus on bathroom essentials (especially for those of us without bidets):

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The best streetart of the day: #coronavirus by @teachr1 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by @impermanent_art. #teachr1 #teachr

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Jeremy Novy says putting up his art right now helps him cope with how he's feeling, instead of sitting at home, worrying.

"I'm trying to deal with my own anxiety, and my own feeling of being disempowered," Novy said. "We don't know what tomorrow holds -- we're kind of sitting here waiting -- and making art and putting it up makes me feel like I'm somehow empowered over the situation."

Catalina Bolívar, who's majoring in studio art, finds doing street art therapeutic.

"If I feel like I'm in a bad mood, I just say 'Well, I'm gonna go out and paint tonight -- let's see where I can go,'" Bolívar said.

Her latest images, which she put up Sunday night, call for good hygiene practices.

Street artist Catalina Bolívar's coronavirus request. (Courtesy Catalina Bolívar)
The anxious cat is also appearing on mattresses. (Courtesy Catalina Bolívar)

Bolívar is glad that people find her crying cat character funny -- it's her street art signature and she's been putting it up since high school -- but just because she's out making art doesn't mean she isn't concerned about the virus. She's less worried for herself than for her parents, who are in their 60s and 70s.

Sometimes, street art is also about taking advantage of the opportunity. With fewer people out at night, Bolívar doesn't worry much about getting caught.

"Right now, literally, I could probably do a whole piece in 15 minutes, and nothing would happen. There's actually really no police patrolling, except maybe one or two," Bolívar said.

Many street artists are used to working alone.

"Street art always has been a socially isolating, socially distancing artform," Novy said.

Novy said his stencil art of praying hands with a soap on a rope is about government leaders who claim coronavirus can be defeated with thoughts and prayers.

"Yes, [soap] is one of the precautions that we need to take," Novy said, "[but] we really need to start thinking about this not by protecting ourselves, but protecting others, and protecting your community... instead of starting to think individually and hoarding and only worrying about yourself."

Jeremy Novy's clasped hands street art is his attempt to say something about COVID-19 -- and deal with his own anxiety. (Courtesy Jeremy Novy)

Coronavirus isn't the only issue artists are addressing in this moment. Bolívar put one of her hand-washing crying cats up by a Highland Park Chase Bank on a wall where an earlier mural had been whitewashed. She said she wanted to post something there as a "f--- you to the whole thing going on with the gentrification and the whitewashing of our murals in the community."

Through it all, Hijack told us (via email) that he hopes work like his helps people take things less seriously and have a sense of humor in a difficult situation. (Hijack declined to be identified by name given the dubious legality of street art.)

But even he's not going out. Hijack says he created the mural above before California's coronavirus quarantine was enacted and he's now sheltering in place with the rest of us.

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