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Chalk Art Of Williams Sisters, George Lucas Goes Up In Little Tokyo Space

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General Assembly, the popular "bootcamp" for those wanting to learn code, unveiled its new downtown space in Little Tokyo on Thursday. One piece of decor will likely grab your attention if you happen to be in the building: a gallery of notable figures who, in varying degrees, have some connection to the L.A. area. There's Sally Ride, Roy Choi, Venus and Serena Williams, and George Lucas. Elsewhere, the Hollywood sign looms above.

All these images are done in chalk against a stark, black background. They're the work of artist Casey Opstad, who's been commissioned by General Assembly in the past to draw portraits on several of their campuses across the nation. Late last week, he landed in L.A. to ply his wares at the new Little Tokyo location. As I spoke with him about his undertaking in L.A., I found it interesting how direct he was about this being a commissioned project. As the lines between commerce and art get even more blurred, some artists and designers may draw a bold line that distinguishes them from their patrons. Opstad, on the other hand, sees his work as being a service to those who commissioned it.

"I'm thinking about the client for the most part. I give over to them, because it really is their choice. I can be vocal about what I think would look the best, and I can be straight-forward," said Opstad. "But ultimately it's their decision." So Opstad has no qualms about being labeled as a hired artist. And he notes that his process— in which he projects an image on a surface and draws over it—has some haters "saying that 'it looks like you're just filling in the white space.'"

But none of this detracts from the fact that there's something particular to chalk art. What makes it so singular, says Opstad, is it that it can be wiped away in a second. "There's an ephemeral quality. When something's precious, or when something can be ruined, there's an added tension there," said Opstad. "You don't really get to keep the work. There's added worth in that, I think." It's not just the medium that informs Opstad's pieces. As with any work put in a public (or, in this case, semi-public) space, the surroundings also come to define the project. But what does a coding bootcamp bring to the table? To Opstad, the Little Tokyo space acts as a nice juxtaposition to the messy nature of the medium. "It's a clean and comfortable space, but maybe it's also sterile. And I come in with chalk all over me. And I draw this and it's just chalk, not something permanent. I think this is a kind of controlled chaos in a small space. It's an image that can be destroyed at any moment, and it's in this clean environment," said Opstad. "If it was outside in a random alley, however, it becomes something different."

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As for how the subject matter was chosen, Opstad had conferred with the handlers of the new space, and it was decided that the aim was to depict people "who are inspirational, who you can look to as entrepreneurs—people who are basically going out to do things," according to Opstad. The brainstorming session—a process that was ongoing even when Opstad had begun drawing—produced a roster that included John Wooden, Gustavo Dudamel, and the aforementioned personages (the inclusion of Jessica Alba is, uh, a little curious).

A spokesperson told us that, strictly speaking, the space isn't a museum for the public. But the drawings will be on display for students and visitors who come to inquire about classes. Here's a video of Opstad drawing the Williams sisters:

General Assembly's downtown space is at 360 E. 2nd Street, Suite 400, (424) 268-2803.