FOR A NATIVE, who rode or drove this stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard via car for years, it’s odd looking at Crenshaw from the perspective of the center of the road. But I’m here for a purpose, to finally take a look at what everyone said would never happen — The Expo/Crenshaw platform — and see close-up the station art which features the work of the late artist Willie Middlebrook.
Middlebrook, an L.A-based photographer/multimedia artist who passed away earlier this year at 54, wasn’t able attend the official unveiling of these deeply complex yet etherial mosaics that overlook the Crenshaw District. He died a week after the Expo Line opened, just after putting the finishing touches on what turned out to be a final piece, one in response to the Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida, for a solo show in at Avenue 50 Studio Highland Park. The cause, said family members, was complications of a stroke.
I’d been wanting to make this trek to see these pieces for a few months now. Middlebrook was someone I’d known and would see periodically around town; he was someone who was deeply involved in community art and art programs — teaching, creating, conversing, creating. His knowledge of the city, it’s stories — past and present — are part of these 24 panels that “float” above the platform.
Each stop along the Expo Line features a different artist, each of whom use these panels to tell a visual story about the neighborhood that surrounds it. Middlebrook’s piece, “Wanderers” is a nod to the multiracial history of the Crenshaw strip where African Americans and Japanese Americans in particular have coexisted along the boulevard and in the streets and avenues stemming out from it for more than half a century. As well as making intercultural connection, the work also connects humanity to the earth — the universe — articulating the continuum.
And while, he’s left bits and pieces of himself within some of the panels — his eye, his nose, his mouth, — what I realized after spending some time looking out on the busy road moving north that you end up feeling that Willie didn’t miss anything at all, he’s right there with you.
“My goal is to make art that speaks to us about how we relate to each other, life, love and our relationship to the environment.”
— Willie Middlebrook