Banksy artwork? Mysterious paintings around town have people wondering

DOWNEY - Graffiti is no rarity in Los Angeles County.In fact, the colorful, coarse and often vexing form of vandalism is plentiful in many urban communities around the country. However, for some, graffiti turns to artwork when bold artists take daring risks to paint stunning and occasionally thought-provoking pieces on everything from billboards and office buildings to stop signs and freeway overpasses. One of the most notorious of these artists is the mysterious, British street artist Banksy who since the early 90s has garnered both praise and disdain for secretly painting his distinctive stencil artwork in cities around the world. Although Banksy typically targets notable venues and large metropolitan areas, three unique art pieces in elusive locations around the city have residents speculating whether the famed artist ever brought his popular graffiti art to the streets of Downey. Unlike some street art, the Downey pieces are subtle and all appear on vacant properties around the city. According to the city's Public Works department, the stencil artwork, which showcases three separate scenes featuring kids and bumble bees, emerged nearly four years ago. The most visible piece is painted on what's left of a demolished building near the corner of Dolan Avenue and Iowa Street. The life-size image depicts a young dark-haired girl wearing a black and yellow dress standing next to a basket of flowers, encircled by bees. On Montgomery Street, behind the recently vacated Alin's Party Depot, located at 12270 Paramount Blvd., is another Banksy-like art piece featuring a young child being lifted into the air by two large bumble bees. Another can be found inside the gates of the now defunct Imperial Fitness Center on the corner of Bellflower Boulevard and Imperial Highway. The painting sits right behind an empty swing set and displays a long-haired young girl atop a bumble bee spring rider. While the Downey paintings do not appear on Banksy's website, the guerilla artist has taken credit for several recent art pieces throughout Los Angeles. Just this month, multiple paintings emerged in various parts of Los Angeles in response to Banksy's Academy Award nomination for his 2010 documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which chronicles the life, art and ideology of the infamous painter-activist. Interestingly enough, Banksy also visited Southern California in 2006 when he opened a free, 3-day exhibition, which featured a large warehouse of art, highlighting global poverty and injustice. Though the artist never showed his face in public, he did make time to plant a controversial life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee inside Disneyland. With no signature or name on the Downey pieces, it's difficult to know who the artist is, but in any case, whether the three stencil paintings end up to be Banksy creations or not, Downey proved to be a worthwhile spot for this popular graffiti art that's capturing the imaginations of many residents around the country.

********** Published: March 3, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 46