All the Saints of the City of the Angels

Local artist J. Michael Walker uncovers cultural history via city streets at the Autry Center, 2.29 - 9.7.08

Published on LatinoLA: February 22, 2008

All the Saints of the City of the Angels

Tangible history and unlikely associations are revealed in All the Saints of the City of the Angels, opening February 29, 2008, at the Autry National Center. Artist J. Michael Walker unlocks a treasure trove of voices amidst the saintly named city streets of Los Angeles, where stories carry metaphorical qualities, and examines connections between our history, heritage, and present-day realities.

Approximately 50 exquisitely detailed, large-scale paintings will be set among precious objects and artifacts from the collections of the Museum of the American West and Southwest Museum of the American Indian.

Each painting is meticulously composed and framed by architectural and metaphorical elements borrowed freely from Spanish religious art. Walker's models-the workers, the homeless, the indigent, and others who often go unseen-give the stories of Los Angeles streets back to their namesakes. English and Spanish text panels; video clips; retablos and bultos (18th- and 19th-century devotional objects from the Autry collection); an interactive area where visitors can further explore the saints and contribute thoughts; and la capilla, an altar where visitors can reflect and leave offerings, enhance museum visitors' experience as they connect with All the Saints.

Saints' names have come to identify our local mountains, bays, forests, and, over the past century, a good number of our city streets. Since 2000, Walker has been researching every Los Angeles street named for a saint, delving into city records, hagiographies, old photographs, maps, and history books. The exhibition combines meticulous research with creative inspiration to depict both historical and contemporary stories of community, conflict, education, homelessness, poverty, sacred space, spirituality, urban development, violence, and more.

Only a handful of L.A.'s saintly named streets date back to the Spanish or Mexican eras. Ironically, it was after Anglo Easterners rolled into Southern California on the tracks of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads, consolidating their control of what had been a culturally Mexican pueblo, that the push to retrieve, reconstruct, and retail the past inspired boosters and developers to dust off the old Spanish saint names and affix them to their newly minted roadways. Little did they imagine that the proud, defiant, thoughtful, and melancholy saints would reveal their own unique version of Los Angeles history.

A stunning large-format, heavily illustrated publication, All the Saints of the City of the Angels: Seeking the Soul of L.A. on Its Streets, copublished by the Autry National Center and Heyday Books, will be available for sale at the Autry Museum Store.

J. Michael Walker is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work is grounded in his decades-long immersion in the rural Mexican culture into which he married over 25 years ago. His affection for that world inspired his series of works on Mexico's patron saint, The Daily Life of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which has been widely exhibited in the United States and in Mexico.

Walker is the recipient of more than a dozen grants, artist residencies, fellowships, and public art commissions, and he has participated in more than 95 exhibitions in the United States and Mexico, including solo shows at Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music; the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art at Harvard University; el Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Mexico City; the National Museum of Catholic Art History, New York City; and the Arkansas Arts Center. He is also a California Humanities Scholar.

A long-held curiosity about the saints and an abiding interest in local history sparked the artist to research and portray the 103 Los Angeles streets named for saints as a way to explore the city's richly complex cultural heritage. All the Saints of the City of the Angels comprises an ever-growing collection of large-scale, mixed-media paintings which combine image and text to portray the convergence of the story of the street and the story of its namesake saint.

The All the Saints of the City of the Angels project has received four grants from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, as well as one from the California Council for the Humanities.

Walker's second book, The Angels' Lament, published by Peregrino Press, Los Angeles, is available direct from the author. His previous book, All the Saints of the Western Valley of the City of the Angels, appeared in 2002 and is now available in its second edition.

The artist-author resides in Los Angeles, California, with his wife, Mimi, and son, Jacobo.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and seniors 60+, $3 for children 3-12, and free for Autry members, veterans, and children 2 and under. Visit www.autrynationalcenter.org

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