Editorial: Richard Ankrom Prankster with a Purpose - Publication: LA Weekly- Date: December 2009

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For exactly eight years, four months and fifteen days, LA painter-sculptor- and installation artist Richard Ankrom drove the I-5 North through downtown with a sense of pride and satisfaction. Poised above the chaos of the 110 freeway in downtown LA. precisely  on Gantry 23100, on the northbound110 Pasadena Freeway, just before the 3rd St. overpass. was a perfectly crafted replica of an Interstate 5 North freeway directional sign intended, just like the Caltrans versions  to ease traffic congestion.

The green Caltrans-perfect sign Ankrom designed and surreptitiously installed courtesy of the artist’s combination of  ingenuity, daring and signwriting  talents was part of an art project with a purpose he titled  a “Guerilla Public Service.”

One day while en route to his home at the Brewery Arts Colony  Ankrom spotted a distinct lack of appropriate signage to denote  the appropriate route to the five freeway northbound . He opted to exercise some guerilla art with a purpose, in turn helping his community by easing traffic congestion on the 110 Freeway – he also had a laugh at Caltrans expense - Who wouldn’t like to fool Caltrans now and then?

So the demise of an installation  he painstakingly created  back in 2002 occurred due to standard replacement procedure happened in late November  he felt a true sense of loss - something akin to losing a  treasured friend or prized possession. More than just a shot at notoriety, Guerilla Public service was actually art with a purpose. Using his signwriting skills, Ankrom created an exact replica of regulation Caltrans signage. He tailored a detailed red-white-and-blue "5 shield" and green "North" sign out of 0.080 mm 5053 aluminum, resplendent  with special-ordered button reflectors. The sign was so authentic Caltrans officials let it remain in place for 8 years, four months and fifteen days, until  standard scheduled replacement saw it removed. Just like a limited edition fine art piece Ankrom had his replica artwork signed and dated, for future identification and possible retrieval, which unfortunately didn’t transpire - much to  his dismay
“I first found out via an online  blog called Franklinavenue.com.  Mike (site creator) mentioned the signs had been changed on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I drove out to look at the freeway site then spent about eight hours on line trying to figure out  who at Caltrans was responsible for taking it down.”

“I found out that Caltrans awarded the sign removal and installation contract to a subcontractor called Peterson/Chase. Under contract they were to recycle the old signs.  They then send them to another company called Garcia Recycling  three blocks away in Garden Grove,  who crush them into blocks.”

“I ended up tracking down an employee of theirs who was actually aware of the work and  who thought he had stashed the right sign, only it wasn’t, he wasn’t aware that the authentic sign had  my signature on the back and didn’t check it. I then found out that my sign had been given to a Garcia Recycling who had crushed it into a block.”

Ankrom then tried frantically to locate the bale containing his sign, though  terse company policy prevented him from rescuing his beloved creation. “The aluminum bales are going to China, and they are not willing to sell them to me, though I will keep trying. before they go in a shipping container.”

Richard recounts the installation process, one that took hours of painstaking organization and orchestration  from the intricacies of replicating the signs, through to donning the appearance of a Caltrans worker, complete with short haircut, hardhat and orange vest.
“The signs were exact reproduction of guide signs (Caltrans part numbers G-27, G-47)  and placed on existing structure (gantry 23100) to aid motorists to their destination and ease traffic congestion for the hundreds of millions of motorists in their commute.”

Installing the signs at sunrise back on since August 5, 2001, Ankrom  equipped himself with a fake invoice ( in the event he was caught). He then hid a ladder in a tree near the freeway and transported his replica sign artwork from his nearby Brewery home  in a van emblazoned with an ominous  logo "Aesthetic De-Construction"

 After parking just minutes away from the existing sign on the Third Street bridge he  officiously  cordoned off a safety zone with two  Caltrans regulation orange traffic cones. He then transformed himself into a Caltrans worker, complete with orange safety vest and hardhat,  before grappling with a ladder and his newly created sign, and mounting it  on the gantry above the freeway in just under an hour.
 The entire process was in turn documented with a video camera by three friends and edited into a 10-minute installation video,  which has since been shown at several art galleries. The video includes the artistic process in its entirety, from the creation of the sign through to the installation The recovered sign was originally intended to  accompany  a screening of the video when it was finally recovered from the freeway site 

Asked about the theoretical connotations of his work, Ankrom confides,  “ Guerilla Public Service was a project designed to prove the integrity of the arts, its place in culture and why civilization needs it. The benefits of the artistic endeavor in everyday life, what we see, don’t see, and take for granted.”


Written by Craig Stephens

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