Three days before the Academy Awards, a life-sized Oscar statuette mysteriously appeared on Hollywood Blvd. doing lines of cocaine on all fours right down the street from where some of Tinseltown’s brightest will surely be doing the same, albeit more discreetly, at Sunday’s glitzy annual trophy show.
Plastic Jesus hath risen again.
The street artist some call the “Banksy of L.A.” pulled a similar stunt last year with a piece slamming Hollywood’s hush-hush heroin problem following the shocking death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman—a life-sized Oscar trophy welcoming onlookers to the biggest night in entertainment with a needle sticking out of its arm.
But heroin abuse like Hoffman’s and more recent tragedies, like the overdose of 30-year-old Parks and Recreation executive producer Harris Wittels that rocked L.A.’s comedy scene this week, tend to stay private until it’s too late. This year, Plastic Jesus wanted to shine a light on the abuse of the more social drugs that will be fueling Hollywood’s late-night post-Oscars afterparties.
“Everybody knows about cocaine, and everybody knows somebody who does cocaine on a regular basis, but it’s just not discussed,” the former photojournalist and London expat told The Daily Beast. “Somebody out there is doing a shitload of cocaine and (the War on Drugs) is costing $40 billion a year. It’s just swept under the carpet.”
He conceived of the new piece five months ago and spent four weeks constructing it out of fiberglass, making lines of fake blow with crushed tablets of aspirin even though “it’s so easy to buy cocaine in Los Angeles, I might as well have used the real thing.”
Disillusionment has driven the work of Plastic Jesus, who keeps his real identity a secret “because street art is still illegal.” After moving to L.A. for the sunshine, he became an agent-repped artist after the journalism game got too celebrity-obsessed for his liking.
“Like most photojournalists I was inspired by the great photojournalists during the wars, people like Robert Capa,” he said. “But over the years, the media has focused more and more on celebrity and what I would call throwaway stories. Now, there are photojournalists who can put up with doing the trash as long as it’s mixed with good-quality news journalism. But those good-quality stories that news organizations are prepared to invest in were becoming fewer and fewer.”
Plastic Jesus’s best-known works include his addicted Oscars and a critique of his former hero Lance Armstrong, whose doping scandal rocked the artist and cycling enthusiast. Four years ago he reached meme status by stenciling “Stop making stupid people famous” on the sidewalks and streets of L.A. “That was about my discomfort and disgust at the way the media was changing,” he explained. “We were making these stupid people famous. But it’s also a criticism of the media-consuming public. Without them, they wouldn’t be out there.”
Not all of L.A. is as ready to cast as critical an eye on the toxic star machine that drives the industry. Installed by Plastic Jesus and two assistants early Thursday morning, the figure the Internet instantly dubbed “Cocaine Oscar” shocked and delighted many a bystander at the intersection of Hollywood and La Brea, where the city shuts down traffic during Oscar Week to accommodate the red carpet circus in front of the Dolby Theater.
Hours later a man happened upon the piece and started asking Plastic Jesus’s cohorts questions, calling it “disgusting and obscene.” He threatened to call the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Everyone’s an art critic these days.
Plastic Jesus, who had to physically intervene last year when an Academy rep threatened to personally remove his Junkie Oscar from the sidewalk, had it removed and relocated to his downtown studio. “I didn’t want there to be a confrontation,” he explained. “I wanted the conversation to be on the subject of the piece and not the location.” Luckily, “all my pieces are designed in a way that they can be assembled on the street pretty quickly—and also disassembled in case you have to run from the cops.”
“I’ve been thinking about a name for this one and I think he’s got to be called Charlie,” Plastic Jesus mused. “Last year’s, you can call him ‘H.’”
“Charlie” is being reinstated this weekend in a new location in front of an Urban Outfitters store. He’ll eventually be moved to L.A.’s LAB ART gallery and put on display alongside 2014’s smack-shooting Oscar, currently for sale with a $25,000 price tag.