Andrea LaHue :: Flower child for the New Normal
Over a year ago, large paintings of flowers started to appear in the Hollywood community of Los Angeles. Each of the flowers was painted on vacant, "For Lease," business properties and they blossomed right when the economic crisis was first hitting California. People in the neighborhood started to follow the flower paintings like it was a scavenger hunt.
The artist, who created them, simply signed the art works, "Random Acts," adding another dimension to the mystery. It wasn't until recently that the artist came forward. Her name is Andrea LaHue, a Los Angeles based artist who's now painting her flowers across America. She's now passing through EDGE cities in the Northeast such as Boston, Providence, Provincetown and New York.
"There was the question, is this art? Or is it graffiti," LaHue said. "I didn't want to turn around and be arrested when I heard a knock at the door."
One of the flowers she painted in Washington DC just appeared on the cover of WP, the Sunday Magazine for the Washington Post.
"The Post cover was a total surprise," said LaHue. "It’s like the Universe gave me a high-five. The article is not about me in any way. The flower is just a back drop. The unintentional randomness is what I love."
The idea for the "Random Acts of Flowers," emerged when LaHue noticed buildings in Hollywood being bordered-up and abandoned.
It was a quick and sudden collapse. California was one of the first states where the economic collapse first hit, but nobody talked about it.
"At that time, the focus in California was the aftermath of the Prop-8 debacle," LaHue said. "The community was in mourning over that loss and then we were so focused on getting Obama elected that we, like the rest of the country were totally surprised when the entire system collapsed. All of my friends were losing their jobs. California was looking pretty dim. I was also suddenly poor because people stopped buying art."
Along with Michigan and Nevada, California has had the highest unemployment rate due to the economic crisis and as the foreclosures started to invade the housing market here, restaurants and luxury stores started to fall like dominoes. As we know, this soon rippled across America. There isn’t one community that hasn’t been affected.
Always painted flowers
"I’ve always painted flowers," LaHue said. "One day I decided to start painting them on these vacant buildings with the hope that it would make someone smile -- my wish is it will give someone hope. I mean, who doesn’t love flowers?"
"It has become a game with my daughter and me," in an email wrote Katherine Fugate, the Hollywood screenwriter of Valentine’s Day, and the popular television series Army Wives. "Every week we would go drive around Hollywood to see if there were any new flowers painted. No hate, no destructive graffiti -- Just a beautiful flower that puts a smile on your face and somehow makes traffic not as annoying."
LaHue set forth on her first Cross-Country Random Acts of Flowers in 2009, which may be viewed on her blog. It was soon-to-be winter, so LaHue traveled south, but first ventured into Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. When the weather started to shift, she headed south to the Carolina’s, Georgia and Florida.
"This summer I changed direction and I’m visiting more of the urban landscapes," said LaHue. "I had to take into consideration that I had limited funds, so I have to travel to where I knew friends have a sofa waiting for me."
LaHue painted flowers across the land and started to receive attention from the local press. The Hays Daily News (Kansas) wrote: "The weather might have been cold, wet and dreary this weekend, but there was at least one colorful sight in downtown Hays, courtesy of a wandering visitor from sunny California."
In New York City, a flower adorned Harlem -- and more flowers started to be painted on abandoned buildings in Philadelphia, Washington DC and the Virginia countryside. LaHue, an Army brat considers this area as home because it was where her father was stationed the longest after traveling the globe with his family.
"When I got to DC, I was confronted by two young African-American girls who were somewhat territorial about their neighborhood," LaHue said. "I forgot the racial division is still very strong, but when I explained that the winter flower I was painting was in honor of our new President, they softened and the flower got me out of an otherwise sticky situation. This is the flower the Washington Post used."
This past Fourth of July weekend, LaHue embarked on part two of this Cross Country Random Acts of Flowers.
"It’s been a hot summer," said LaHue. "I’ve been waiting for the weather to shift, but thus far it’s been an intense journey out here on the road."
Getting the message
It seems no matter where LaHue stops to paint a flower the members of the community are getting the message and are applauding her work.
"When I first saw the flower in our small town, I knew this was not done by anyone from here," said Mark Shaffran, a retired newspaper editor with the USAF. "I thought it had to be a gay person, who did it, but this is the Bible-Belt and everyone’s in the closet and even if we wanted to run around painting flowers on buildings, we just don’t. Then, when I met Andrea, I couldn’t believe it was this beautiful straight woman. She’s a breath of kindness. She’s kind of a Johnny Appleseed reincarnated as an artist."
"My work has always been very erotic or as I like to think empowered by the Goddess," said LaHue. "But I’m most surprised to how people are reacting to the flowers. I think there must be a natural sexual communication going on there."
LaHue is currently out on the road with her two dogs, Lilly and Buckley, a mutt she saved from an abusive home right before she left Los Angeles.
"People think that someone is paying me to do this," said LaHue. "They think the owner of the building has hired me, so it surprises a lot of people that I’m doing this on my own."
The Cross-Country Random Acts of Flowers is all funded by LaHue and interested patrons may contribute on her blog via PayPal.
"It amazes me that people are shy to approach me except homeless people, small children and their parents," said LaHue. "They are all delighted to see the flowers. Even rough and tough looking men smile and say ’beautiful flower’ as they pass by."
After Boston, LaHue plans to return to the west coast with flower stops in Chicago, Omaha, Salt Lake City prior to arriving in San Francisco.
"This has been a very trying time for America," said LaHue. "Perhaps one of my flowers will give the strength to someone and remind them that we must always grow. The cycle will never end no matter what life throws at us. We will survive. There are wildflowers in Death Valley that only grow if it rains during the winter. Several years may pass but if we had a good rain season, come spring there’s a sea of flowers in Death Valley. We must listen to nature and be a part of it."
LaHue and her Random Acts may be followed on her blog, webpage or on Google Maps, which is tracking her journey across America. If you see LaHue out on the street in a city or town near you, make sure to stop and smell the roses.
David De Bacco is a writer living and celebrating life in Los Angeles. He has worked for some of the world’s most famous chefs and restaurateurs, and along the way he became a little savvy about food and wine. He has published articles and cookbooks for the Shibata Publishing Co. in Tokyo and is a contributing writer for Patch.com, where he writes a weekly column, ’Fresh from the Farmers Market’ for the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood editions. He is also the creator of the Cookin with Mama blog, a meeting place to share recipes from our mothers.