The British jazz-pop singer Sade can be counted in the Pantheon of 1980s music icons. Her music videos for songs like the “The Greatest Taboo” and “Smooth Operator” were a staple of MTV (back when MTV entire programming consisted of music videos). 

She is among several influential 1980s pop-cultural icons depicted in street art portraits by Los Angeles artist Alex Ali Gonzalez. This mural of Sade pictured here is in the Arts District near Downtown Los Angeles.

Street art that uses images of famous persons can grab and hold the attention of the viewer in a way that immediately offers some personal connection to the artwork, if that famous person is recognized. A 50-something Gen Xer may remember Sade’s music videos and fondly recall the melodies of her songs. And this might make them feel warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for a hot sec.

The artwork is an homage to the subject in admiration and an expression of the artist’s likes and tastes, if not their own nostalgic feelings. Perhaps there’s a deeper underlying meaning (maybe Sade once shot a music video in the spot where the mural is? Something like that?). It’s a reminder of things the artist, the viewer, the “we” collectively identify and hold up as important and valuable. Surely, for some the music and style of Sade have great importance.

People will like a mural like this. They’ll even love it. They’ll want to take pictures and selfies with it. It’s highly Instagrammable.

But aside from that and its homage, as a work of contemporary art, it makes no big statement nor does it disrupt our thinking and give us pause to either wonder or recoil. It doesn’t have to. But it would be a lot more powerful and exciting if it did and if it had something to say. Nostalgia has its place and purpose, but as a creative exercise it can be a trap and at worst a creative death. It’s indulgent and easy. But there is no shame.

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