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Artist Andrea LaHue On How She Got Attacked, Then Arrested For Painting Flowers Over Graffiti

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Artist Andrea LaHue admits 2013 has been "a helluva year." In January, she broke her arm breaking up a fight between her rescue dog and a pit bull, then in April she was assaulted while painting flowers over graffiti, something she's done all across the country with no problems. Somehow that led to her, instead of her assailants, getting arrested.

LaHue's work has been shown in Los Angeles (where she lives), New York and Paris. She's been profiled by The Huffington Post, NBC News and The Associated Press and she's contributed to projects for Martha Stewart Living and How I Met Your Mother.

LaHue talked to LAist about why she began her "Random Acts" of painting flowers in rundown areas where, she thought, people needed a smile. "I usually don't paint in nicer neighborhoods. They don't need it as much," she said.

How long have you been painting?
I've been painting all my life, since I was a little girl.

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You are also have gallery exhibitions in addition to the street art?
Yes. I come from fine arts and when I started doing flowers, there wasn't really a street art scene, but then I drove around the country [painting flowers], and by the time I got back, there was. I didn't even consider myself a street artist.

When did you decide to start painting flowers over graffiti?
I thought about it at the beginning of the current wars but then I didn't have the courage to do it. My first thought was to do it on public buildings and my friends were like, "You'll get arrested for that." Around 2006 when the economy faltered and we were still in the middle of those wars and my brother was going off to Afghanistan, I really wondered what I could do to help. I had a need to, somehow, as an Army brat. My love for the country is sort of bred into me. I thought that painting flowers on for-lease and abandoned buildings to just bring a smile to people's faces with something that I could do in a quiet and powerful way. (Her brother's back home now, and he's safe, she says.) I tell my dad that I'm a product of his ideals, which were Duty, Honor, Country. I would add to that, Liberty, Equality and Humanity

How did you end up getting arrested?
I was painting the last weekend of April on a Sunday at noon on La Brea and Olympic. Someone drove up and parked, as often happens when I'm painting. [A man and a woman] came out of their car. I turned around and said hello and kept painting my flowers over some tags on this building. The people got very frenzied, they were taking pictures, and then the lady said, "Call the police." And then she said, "Shall I take her keys?" and she reached into my truck and took the keys. I jumped up to grab my keys and the man came and punched me in the face and put me in a headlock. I lost control of the keys and he and I struggled for a while and then she screamed to him to let me go. They didn't ask me to stop painting, they didn't ask me what I was doing there. They didn't talk to me. I put my paints in the back of the truck, I took two pictures of the man, I took my spare key, got in my car and drove away.

Did they file charges against you?
I don't know what happened, actually. I'm still trying to figure that out. I went and reported it to the police. It's considered assault, carjacking and kidnapping, because they weren't allowing me to leave. I reported it, then on June 19, I was arrested on my doorstep. It seems like the police are protecting them now because I can't get information about that case. When I was in the back of the police car, the detectives told me that my keys were "in custody." That's all I know. I assume they tracked me down from the pictures of my license plate.

What did they charge you with?
They charged me with felony vandalism. $20,000 bond. They took me to South Central jail and I was there for 7 hours.

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Is it all resolved now?
My lawyer says yes. We went to court on the 10th. We were in felony court with murderers. She called it "Big Boy Court." Then they said, "We'll just send this to misdemeanor court." Then the next day, the detective agreed that it was a "bullshit case." That's the word that she used, and that they would not be filing charges. I'm still afraid someone's going to knock on my door and arrest me, but my lawyer assures me that that won't happen.

Did the people who assaulted you file the charges against you?
It was the State of California against me.

You filed an assault charge and nothing ever happened as far as you know?
No. I never got my keys back and they aren't forthcoming with who those people are.

What kind of feedback do you usually get from people?
Great. It's usually really good. I've been stopped by other building owners across the country. They'll send out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That's usually what happens. And so it was shocking what happened with these people. People always told me I should be afraid of gangs, but these weren't gang members. I'm not quite sure who they were. I've never had a reaction like that. They weren't acting like they had all their facilities. Maybe they were crackheads.

Has this incident changed your mind about doing street art?
Absolutely. I'm not doing the Random Acts like I used to. It's sad. I'll do it only with permission from now on, which changes it, because a lot of these places don't have signage where I can contact people or it's in areas where no one cares. It's been financially devastating.

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You never recovered the bail money?
No. I have a donations button on my site for PayPal.

Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
I have a piece at the TKU show that's coming up on August 8 and I always have work at The Gabba Gallery and I'll have work at their next show in August.