Even for locals, Los Angeles can often feel big and sprawling and lacking in nuance, a city whose close-knit neighborhoods offer nothing if not directly asked. But there is one artist, the enigmatic and longstanding Black Palms, who is trying to change that perspective, and he’s doing it with tiny, unassuming street art eggs.
Black Palms — whose real name is secret — is about as prolific as any street artist can get. He has produced countless pieces of egg art over nearly a decade of work, presenting a spectrum of eggs that may be large, small, or absolutely tiny. Many of them hide in plain sight on LA’s most coveted blocks. He’s got a three-foot-wide egg in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown, and softball-sized eggs on sidewalks, walls, lamps, and buildings from Venice to Pasadena and beyond. There’s at least one inside of Grand Central Market in Downtown right now (hint: It’s on the Hill Street side). Almost none of them carry the Black Palms name, or his @blk_plms Instagram handle, which currently has under 1,700 followers.
Perhaps some passersby have never noticed one of Black Palms’ eggs before, though most — including New York Times food writer Tejal Rao — have certainly stepped over, on, or around one in the not-too-distant past.
Personally, I’ve spent the better part of the past two years passively thinking about these eggs and their significance. I spend a lot of time driving around various neighborhoods in any given week, so the overlap of food as imagery and Black Palms’s be-everywhere-at-once ubiquity is particularly perfect for me.
The often uncredited eggs are, in a way, an anti-signature for Black Palms, an image so singular it can only claim one genesis, though by design it also leaves no real personal details behind. Unsurprisingly, that also makes the man, the artist, very hard to reach. An anonymous egg painter who rarely leaves his handle behind sure can be difficult to track down.
The way I finally got Black Palms to talk to me was via Instagram direct message, after spotting his split-up tag across two freeway buttresses heading towards Downtown. Each big, colorful egg on the two different bridges carried half of his Instagram handle separately, as shown below, but once I realized I had to combine the two vowelless words I found the page, which held only a simple phrase as its bio: I (heart) eggs.
I got lucky: Black Palms tells me that this particular piece was only up for a week before the city came along and scrubbed it clean.
Weeks after first contact via Instagram, Black Palms agreed to meet for coffee at Grand Central Market. He was naturally reticent to talk too openly, given the work he does, and we have agreed not to use his name or any other identifying personal details. So, my biggest question after waiting nearly two years to find this singular, often nameless artist: What’s up with all these eggs?
“It’s very much exploring a relationship with the city, and exploring imagery and meaning,” says Black Palms. “The egg is such a neutral image. I often feel it acts as a Rorschach test, and people will project so much on to it, and come to me with these wild and inventive ideas about what it all means. To them it’s all true, and I would never deny them that. To me, it’s an invitation more than any sort of statement.”
That’s not to say Black Palms isn’t ever thinking just outside the frame of his street canvas to see how his art may interact with the immediate surroundings. Take that large piece, a three foot-wide amoeba sitting slightly worn away on a concrete stopgap between two elevated streets near the Broad museum, Otium restaurant, and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“Sometimes my placement is chosen to create a specific discussion, to create a juxtaposition or incitement,” he says. Other times, the eggs are about gathering places, which often means cafes, restaurants, and bars are a natural fit. On the blocks-long walk of Vermont in Los Feliz it is possible to catch nearly a dozen eggs of various sizes and shapes dotting the sidewalks and curbs in front of places like the new all-vegan Honeybee Burger. “Sometimes I just put them where I think kids will find them.”
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By his count, Black Palms believes there must be “thousands” of eggs dotting sidewalks and railings, both nationally and internationally. There’s even one in Atlanta, Georgia where he got started at the famed Krog Street Tunnel in Cabbagetown. There, one of his eggs made it into the background of an episode of the show Atlanta. Other cities to find eggs include: Charlotte, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo, San Francisco, Tucson, Honolulu, and London.
Just in talking to Black Palms about his eggs, or in noticing them passively around the city, his perspective on questioning and inciting begins to make sense. The egg is familiar, but is shrouded in questions.
Why a red yolk, instead of yellow? He says only that “fertilized eggs are often red.” How often does he work? “As much as I can. I’ll go in spurts, sometimes several times a week. It’s like my night job,” he says. Is there another medium or muse he also enjoys? Not at the moment, though his work may change over time. Right now, he says “the eggs are my obsession.”
Why work in secret, usually without so much as a handle to represent his free art out in the world? Why the street in the first place? “There’s some sport in street art,” Black Palms says, “by way of hunting and being hunted. The conversation is so alive right now with street art; it’s this open discussion among all parties, viewers and artists. It’s amazing and exciting.” As for his relative anonymity in producing art without a name tag, Black Palms says there’s a bit of hunt and sport in even just figuring out who he is, too. That was certainly true for me.
Of course, the exciting part of placing art in an unusual place does come with an increased amount of risk. Street artists, like street vendors, are everywhere in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean what they do is, or has historically been, strictly legal. Black Palms knows that his art is a naturally ephemeral thing.
“The first time I got buffed, it was heartbreaking,” Black Palms says of having his work painted over or removed. “But that’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out as I navigate the street art world. Some spots are easy to get to and prominent, but they don’t have a long life. There are spots that are more difficult to get to that have a longer life. Picking a spot is part of the hunt.”
In the end, that’s what makes Black Palms’s art so oddly compelling. It’s ubiquitous, but impermanent. His eggs are often imbued with meaning simply by existing in the Bestia alley, or in front of Sqirl, but in reality they can be as meaningless as the viewer chooses to let them be. Like most of the best stories in Los Angeles, the eggs blend seamlessly into the city, sight unseen, ready to reveal themselves only when the viewer takes the time to notice.