concrete canvas

September 23, 2011

HELPDESK wheat paste on the side of the Acres of Books building on Long Beach Blvd.

With stickers and posters, street artist HELPDESK finds space for his works everywhere

as published in the october 2011 issue of city beat long beach

If you’ve walked, biked or driven around Long Beach at any point in the last year, then you’ve seen the bleeding cameras, hooded children and hand-painted nautical scenes from local street artist HELPDESK.

“It’s instant gratification,” the artist says of his growing number of posters, stickers and stencils found in public view around the city. “People try all their lives to become artists or photographers and see their work on a billboard or in a gallery. I could pick a spot and put a poster there and see my work.”

It’s this immediacy that still draws HELPDESK—a lifelong photographer-turned-street artist who likes keeping his true identity anonymous—to see utility boxes, stop signs and abandoned buildings as part of his own urban canvas. And in Long Beach particularly, the canvas is pretty blank.

From Latino gang tagging in the ’70s to the skate-punk inspired images of the ’90s, Los Angeles has always held a crucial role in pioneering new styles in the street art world. But until recently, Long Beach seemed destined to live in the shadow of the thriving scene to the north. Even Long Beach’s most famous contributor to the medium—Skullphone, so called for his signature image of a floating skull holding a phone—only received recognition once he started focusing his efforts in L.A.

Stickers hand printed with HELPDESK's signiture image, the bleeding camera.

HELPDESK is part of a new generation of local artists coming up in Long Beach’s post-Skullphone wake, but he is one of the few creating colorful, large-scale artworks by hand, many of which are custom-designed for the spaces where they are eventually placed. And while he says that recognition from the L.A. community is always nice—he has put up several big pieces along Melrose that have appeared on local art-watch blogs—his real passion for street art lies in its ability to alter the landscape of his hometown.

“You changed your element,” he says. “You changed your life in this city. Not only that, but you changed somebody else’s experience through that chunk of world. They saw something they wouldn’t have seen without you. Whether they like it or not is a different story.”

“When I started doing this, it was purely selfish,” he says of his intentions in creating his HELPDESK persona. “I started making stickers. Stickers turned into posters. Posters turned into giant posters and putting stickers on stop signs turned into climbing roofs and running through the oil fields at night. It was a completely natural evolution.”

Humble about his talents and hesitant to become a spokesperson for the local street art community, HELPDESK is the first to dismiss any clear-cut interpretations of his art. With simple images and minimal text executed in often time-consuming displays, his repertoire varies stylistically and thematically. Unlike politically charged street artists such as Banksy, however, HELPDESK’s pieces always maintain a personal, artistic element and provide a glimpse into one person’s unique vision of a more vibrant Long Beach.

“It’s so bizarre that I’ve gotten any recognition at all because that’s just a bonus for me,” he says. “I’m just doing my thing and if it pays the bills, sweet. If not, who cares? It’s just butcher paper.”

(SIDEBAR INFO)

Certain areas of Long Beach are understandably more tolerant of street art—such as 4th Street’s Retro Row, where HELPDESK often places new pieces—but not everybody approves of putting up artwork in public spaces. In addition to efficient city clean-up crews and vigilante buffers who paint over pieces with their own can of spray paint, the greatest threat for street art in Long Beach is the law itself. “Bottom line, it’s vandalism,” HELPDESK admits. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. There are rules, and we work around the rules and over the rules.”

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