DOWNEY - As Downey residents continue to marvel at the mysterious stencil paintings popping up around town, the guerilla street artist himself, surprised at the sudden notoriety, has come forward, grateful that his artwork is starting to make an impact in the community he grew up in.Born and raised in Downey, Bumblebee, who uses an alias for anonymity, started secretly painting poignant yet playful portraits of children and bees on abandoned buildings and structures more than five years ago, but has more recently began to see his audience grow as pictures of his work have traveled across cyberspace. Bumblebee, who still lives in Downey, says his creativity emerged when he noticed a shortage of artwork around town. "Creativity is everywhere, but it seems to bee [sic] lacking in Downey and its surrounding cities," he said in an e-mail response. "That really got me thinking about how I could change that, and making my art public was the answer. I've done most of my street art in Downey and am really surprised that there are many still around the city for people to see and hopefully appreciate." Bumblebee did acknowledge that several of his Downey pieces have been taken down through the years, but he ensures that there are still more paintings around town that have yet to be published by anyone. "I think I'll leave those locations a secret between me and the people who have seen them," he said. "These paintings are all up for interpretation, but I can say that these haunting images of children playing around bees reflect my message of innocence and coming of age. To me, bees are a sign of vulnerability. I do beelive [sic] that children best represent this quality also. "The paintings/installations in the street are all on unloved and forgotten parts of the city. I feel that these places are just as vulnerable as the children that I paint." Unlike more daring forms of street art, Bumblebee's Downey art pieces are subtle and all appear on vacant properties around the city. Arguably one of his most visible pieces is painted on what's left of a demolished building near the corner of Dolan Avenue and Iowa Street. The life-size image named "Bee is for Ballerina" 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 boy 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 young girl atop a bumble bee spring rider. With the rising popularity of street artists such as British painter-activist Banksy, many residents began wondering who mastered the art pieces that have been in Downey for nearly four years. Though beautiful and striking, Bumblebee admits that the artwork itself is not necessarily cheap to produce. "At first, it was expensive, but just like with any lifestyle you learn to adapt to it and use your student I.D. card for any discount you can get," Bumblebee said. "In fact, I used to get most of my supplies from Neil's Stationers on Firestone Boulevard. I do sell my work in galleries in L.A. so that helps with expenses." Bumblebee expressed appreciation for the encouraging feedback he'd received from residents and he shared his desire to put more art pieces up around Downey. "So far, the response to my art around the city had been very positive. So I certainly hope I'll bee [sic] able to put some more work up," he said. "For a long time I really thought that no one had even noticed these paintings, but that's obviously not the case now." Though Bumblebee's true identity may never be uncovered, the Downey street artist is quite content, eager to offer even more artistic opportunities for community members. "I would like to make it clear to the citizens of Downey that I do not find it appropriate to paint on someone's house or business without permission," said Bumblebee. "But also I feel there is nothing wrong with painting or making installations in these abandoned and forgotten places in our city. "I do street art not just for fun, but I really feel like it's necessary for the community to get a chance to see and experience art…I feel like I'm contributing and adding culture to our city."
********** Published: March 10, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 47