Cleopatra in West Hollywood

When the late legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the 1963 film classic “Cleopatra” in 1963, she unlikely never imagined that her likeness would appear as street art on a now hip stretch of Faifax Avenue in Hollywood. But so it is.

Film immortalizes. Street art, though usually ephemeral, has the power to do so, too, when photographed, now more than ever in the hyper image-capturing world thanks to the billions of us and our default digital habits via iPhones, Instagram and other social media.

This wheat-pasted artwork of Taylor will fade, be torn away or scraped off and disappear. But it has indelibly left itself in the memories of its viewers everywhere it appears whether on the streets of LA or as images saved across the global strata of devices and the cloud.

The artwork is signed by “Van” (no relation to the Van of this blog) and was put up on the window of an emptied retail space that has already been on the receiving end of the graffiti-tagging ritual that descends upon storefronts when a tenant leaves. The neighborhood is neither gritty nor overrun with graffiti, but given its hipster retail quotient (“HRQ”), it has become a home for an above-average volume of street art and, with it, the camptrail of graffiti art and sticker-bombed spaces.

This is due to an unusual confluence of Los Angeles geography, landmarks and neighboring institutions that draws an ideal demographic and market for style-centric retail and street art. At least a half-dozen shops catering to serious sneakerheads and street style sartorialists line both sides of Fairfax Avenue in a short segment between Melrose and Oakwood avenues. These include Crooks and Castles, Diamond Supply, Supreme and Hall of Fame. 

The strip is also home to the legenday Canter’s Deli, a long-time late-night hangout for bands and entertainment industry types. Fairfax High School is here, too, where on school days thousands of students traffick in and out of the area.

At one end of the stretch is Melrose itself, one of LA’s most-established and fashionable shopping destinations for designer clothing, high-end and street. At the other end is CBS Television City, and a little further south, Farmers Market and the Grove. For those selling premium, limited edition Nikes and Addidas and complimenting these with hoodies and caps, the neighborhood became an epicenter for a market eager to buy their wares.

As for Elizabeth Taylor and Van’s artwork, she in her glorious, braided Cleopatra hairstyle looks fittingly contemporary. If women (or a dude, for that matter) walked out of the Supreme store with that hair and make-up, it would seem perfectly normal, just another of the myriad styles either intentionally or unwittingly drawing on and referencing pop cultural influences of the recent aughts and late Twentieth Century. Late 1970s disco culture tapped into the chic of the Egytpian-via-Hollywood braids look. It was part of a pornstar’s circa-early-1980’s look in the movie “Boogie Nights.”

For much of her early and middle career, Taylor was a beauty and style icon. She was also the subject of one of the world’s foremost and most famous artists of the post-modern pop-art era, Andy Warhol. Until her passing, she was Hollywood royalty, at the apex of the “A” list before if was even called that, relevant at a distance even long after she was no longer appearing in blockbuster movies and away from the limelight.

In a way then, Taylor is exactly right where she should be immortalized as street art.