"City in Mind: A Lyrical Map of the Concept of Los Angeles"
By J. Michael Walker
In the summer of 2011, artist J. Michael Walker was invited by the co-directors of Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights to create a work of art as part of a pop-up exhibition at the Hammer Museum. When they asked J. Michael how he would connect Libros Schmibros in Westwood with Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights, he replied, “With a map.” From there, the focus turned into an illustrated map of writers who had lived in, or written about, Los Angeles.
Working within constraints, whether physical or process-oriented, can shape how a piece of art is created. The dimensions of the piece were determined by the physical space in the exhibition, and the artist drew the map to scale within the confines of that space, with one foot per mile. The map is not intended to be exhaustive but instead functions as an editorial statement, highlighting a diverse range of authors to reflect the dynamic nature of the city. By depicting the authors in ways they haven’t been represented before, the artist creates a sense of unexpected intersections among literary figures. Authors appear on the map as cultural landmarks: for example, Ray Bradbury appears over his home in Cheviot Hills, and Hunter S. Thompson is placed in the Beverly Hills Hotel, which he visits in “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan.” The map also reimagines popular depictions of Los Angeles and the concept of a literary canon by including figures like Tupac Shakur and Randy Newman and omitting classic icons of the city such as the palm tree. A sense of whimsy pervades the map, as Joan Didion recreates David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) on the beach and Raymond Chandler drinks with Tom Waits at Musso and Franks Grill in Hollywood, served by the innkeeper from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The UCLA Library acquired the map shortly after the Hammer exhibition as part of its Collecting Los Angeles initiative. Featuring forty-eight authors, the map complements the Library's expansive collections. UCLA Library Special Collections houses the papers of several featured authors, including Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, Wanda Coleman, Anais Nin, and many more.