VENICE, CA — Attention anyone who has ever seen those colorful, cartoon-cut-out doves that dangle from power lines over busy intersections from here to San Francisco, NYC and even London: Could Browne, the enigmatic, young street artist behind the berds (his werd), be using them to basically flip the bird?
“They have a pretty obvious meaning,” Browne says. “But I won’t tell anyone what it is.”
Fine. Mystery is fun…ish. Though insisting the meaning is obvious is an obvious attempt to tempt suckers with nothing better to do into wasting time playing guessing games.
So my guess is “flipping the bird” is the meaning.
For one thing, he sort of “flips” the “berds” up onto the power lines (see video). For another, flipping the bird is what street art, on some level, is generally about: It’s generally illegal, generally vandalism and generally subversive social commentary aimed at the man.
Therefore, flipping the bird is my final answer for what Browne means.
Unless it’s “bird on a wire”… The berds could be an allusion to Leonard Cohen’s 1968 song. A “literary” reference coming from a young man like Browne would exhibit obvious savvy. And they do hang on wires.
On the other hand, Bird on a Wire was also the name of a 1992 Mel Gibson/Goldie Hawn movie. There’s scant cultural cache to be had for associating one’s art with Mr. Potty Mouth. Scratch bird on a wire.
But speaking of Mel, how about “jailbird?” Maybe jailbird is Browne’s secret meaning.
After all, his objects d’street art are counterbalanced by padlocks (on the opposite end of a short cable), the better to wrap around wires they’re flung at. And they’re up in the air: lock+up=lock-up=jail, and jail+berd=jailberd, ergo jailbird.
This interpretation dovetails nicely with the fact that the berds dangle from utility lines like so many pairs of sneakers. Urban legend has it that sneaks hung thusly mark gang territory. The berds could be a comment on where gang-banging leads: To lock-up, to being a jailbird.
Or they could be an attempt to undercut the sneakers’ implied threat, which brings us back to flipping the bird, which leads to the obvious: I haven’t got a frikkin’ clue what the little peckers mean.
Maybe they’re just peace doves for war-ravaged times (though I sometimes wonder if they’re actually ducks).
I could have asked Browne. We drove around Venice together to talk about his work. But he said he doesn’t divulge what they mean and I wasn’t going to be annoying and try and try to guess.
At least not to his face. But even behind his back I can’t figure it out.
Go figure…And while you’re at it, figure out his actual name. It’s appeared in the press. But he prefers to be identified simply as Browne.
So Browne it is. And Browne’s been flinging up berds in far-flung cities for close to three years.
A resident of L.A.’s Echo Park, he’s originally from Venice, where he regularly returns to make more berds (in his folks’ backyard—I’m guessing he brings laundry, too) and to replace previously hung berds that have gone missing.
Browne considers himself a street artist in the vein of outlaw posterers like Robbie Conal (who he considers a mentor), stencil-painters and graff artists. He prefers making street art over “high art” because of its immediacy, and because far more people (and more kinds of people) than go to galleries and museums will see it.
And there’s always a chance he’ll wind up in an institution anyway. New Yorker Keith Haring did back in the ’80s. His beneath-the-street-art subway chalk drawings were so popular people used to peel them off the subway walls to collect. Browne’s berds have a subversive whimsy similar to Haring’s hieroglyphs, though Browne’s iconography is far less developed.
Like a lot of young street artists nowadays, Browne sees miscreant/entrepreneur Shepard Fairey of OBEY fame as someone to emulate. To wit, Browne recently opened his own gallery/store—actually more of a closet—Berdhouse Gallery, in Echo Park.
Still, despite a growing collection of respectable press clips, Browne is yet to soar like a Fairey. Nevertheless, he remains committed to berding, illegality and meager income notwithstanding. Just the other day I realized my ‘hood had been hung with a new batch of berds.
I say “realize” because the berds often hang just at the edge of consciousness—stopped at a light, you realize there’s flat art fluttering overhead only as the light changes and you’re flung back into the road warrior world.
At Venice & Abbot Kinney, then again at Venice & Lincoln, I saw fresh berds twisting in the breeze, replacing old berds that had gone missing.
“I don’t know who takes them down,” Browne told me. “Maybe utility workers.”
Likely. It’s doubtful people are snatching them like they did Haring’s works. Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have one. But trying to get it off a power line?