Part of what makes street art so fascinating is when it appears in very unexpected ways. When I was stuck at a light looking around at some boarded up storefronts on an economically challenged street between Silver Lake and Echo Park, I was greeted by the morning pleasantries of two bears in dialog. A white bear politely asks “How Do You Do?” while a black bear graciously responds “Very Well Thank You”.
You could imagine my pause. The politeness of it literally slapped me in the face because after all, I’m in Los Angeles; we aren’t known for our civility. This rogue display of cuteness was so divergent from its surroundings it was alarming.
At the Silver Echo Gallery, a rare mural will make a fleeting appearance before the street consumes it with tags and graffiti. One day a beautiful black and white charcoal mural was adorning the wall facing a busy street. A day later I drove by the mural and saw a bear painted next to it. The bear had a smile on its face while pointing at the mural. His caption read, “I like this one.” (It seems as though these bears have a sense of humor too). So, who is this mystery artist?
The man behind the bears is graphic artist Phil Lumbang III. His street art arsenal consists of a bucket, some paint and a paint brush. As a child Phil was heavily influenced by cartoons. His love for simple, iconic images eventually led Phil to ObeyGiant’s Studio Number One where he worked as an assistant to the notable (or notorious, depending on what side of the coin you are on) Shepard Fairey. The Awesome Bears have one mission; to make people smile. There’s no overt political message, just love, peace, happiness and unity. In an art community that is often (to quote a friend) “intoxicated with its own exuberance”, it’s refreshing to feel a visceral reaction to something so simple.
The response to Lumbang’s work has been mixed. Ironically enough, Phil doesn’t lurk in the shadows of darkness to create his work, he paints in the light of day (usually with little interruption from cops or passersby), however there have been some detractors. A couple in Silver Lake commissioned Lumbang for a mural on their property, and after one complaint by a neighbor, the piece was placed at the center of a political debate over graffiti and art in the community. The couple was ordered to remove the mural on March 1st, however they were granted a reprieve until April.
Meanwhile, the bears continue to make appearances everywhere, including DTLA’s Standard Hotel. Phil Lumbang has emerged above ground and found a commercial outlet.
According to the Standard, the piece, which can be found on 6th St, is a living mural which will change every 3 months. I look forward to spotting more random acts of kindness from the Awesome Bears in the future.