August 21st, 2012

Paige Smith (A Common Name) is an up-and-coming accidental street artist living in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles. She creates beautiful geodes out of ordinary paper and spray paint and plants them wherever she finds an appealing and appropriate location. You may have seen some of her work featured on Refinery29, The Huffington Post, or at The Standard Hotel.

When I pulled up to Handsome Coffee Roasters in the Arts District to interview Paige Smith, I was more than a little bit excited. Just a few weeks prior on a tour of my new neighborhood in Echo Park, I found one of her beautiful geodes expertly inserted into the vacant space among a brick wall at Taix on Sunset Boulevard. A few minutes of Google searching, several back-and-forth emails, and a text message or two later, I found myself walking in to my favorite coffee spot to meet the accidental street artist behind the project.

Dressed in a sleeveless button down and skinny black jeans, her long wavy hair the perfect ambre of the season, Paige is almost exactly how I pictured her: stylish, petite, with a friendly smile. And as we began chatting, it became clear that Paige is every bit as lovely and delightful as the mesmerizing geodes she creates.

How did this urban street art project start for you?

I was always interested in geology. I was that kid with a rock collection, who always thought I would be a scientist. I walk around or take my bike to get places, which is rare in this city. Within my own community, I started to notice these nooks and holes in the sides of buildings, walls, abandoned phone booths, and saw it as an opportunity to create.

And then it just took off from there?

The geodes are based in science and mathematics. I did a ton of research on polyhedric shapes before I settled on eighteen shapes to recreate, entirely in paper. Each piece is measured to a specific degree and then placed in a caste. It is entirely site specific.

It seems like the process is much more meticulous than what meets the eye.

Yeah, it really started from me just needing something to do with my hands. I live and work from my loft, so I finally feel this need to be productive at home while I’m watching TV or listening to music. It started with knitting and moved along from there. I try to make my graphic design work as tactile as possible – making 3D paper prints and physical print cut-outs. Some people like to come home and veg out in front of the TV; I sit there and feel compelled to produce.

So what’s on the TV that’s getting these geodes made? In the cinematic montage sequence of Paige Smith busting out huge geodes at ridiculous speeds, what is playing in the background?

I watch a lot of cartoons and dark “children’s” movies. Favorites are the whole Miyazaki collection, Terry Gilliam movies like Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Return to Oz…I like almost anything fantasy, where it’s another world with new rules and endless creativity.

With any form of street art, there is sort of an impermanence to it, but you seem to have embraced that with using paper as your primary material. Does the temporaryness of it all upset you?

Not at all. I enjoy the juxtaposition between these organic shapes and the manmade buildings I place them in. I am much more interested in them falling apart and dissolving because of the weather; it’s their way of living and experiencing the city as well. It’s like you are building an artificial construct of a natural geode inside some of the city’s most artificial structures and then allowing nature to perform its artwork. It’s fascinating.

How do you want people to feel if they find one of these little gems while walking around Downtown?

I want them to be excited! I would want them to feel some sense of wonder – like you’ve found a little treasure. They are beautiful and shiny, and often placed within deteriorating brick or a delapidated space. Unlike a lot of forms of art, you don’t have to understand anything to interact with them.

“It doesn’t take an art expert to appreciate the geode, it’s not overtly political, it really just takes a moment to look around you.”

I love tangible art, and I’m very tactile. I work as a freelance graphic designer, and I’m always making 3D paper type, creating intricate cuts into paper. Web design is my bread and butter, but there is nothing like making something with your hands.

But with a piece like this that is so beautiful and so tangible, you run the risk of “copycats,” for lack of a better word.

I don’t worry too much about that. If people want to replicate it, that would be great. I am all about letting your process be known, and it’s quite an intricate process that goes into each geode, one that I’m constantly refining. If someone wants to take the time to replicate it, that’s great – though it would be ideal if I was credited as the originator.

If in a hundred years, one of your geodes is placed in a museum and people are analyzing its importance and message, what would you want them to take away from the experience?

It is really about awareness. If you walk around or bike around the city, you already have a reward in getting to actively experience your community. These geodes are meant to be an extra reward – an added beautiful bonus for being aware. Take a moment and notice your surroundings. If my geodes could be a part of that revelation for anyone, I would be very happy.

What are your future plans and any dreams for this project?

I recently planted my first geode internationally, in Mexico City, and I would love to continue to travel and make them. After my first ever installation at The Standard Hotel in West Hollywood this summer, I’m very interested in doing more installation based work. Ideally, I would love to work with the city in some way, and make more permanent geodes under bridges or tucked into underpasses – wouldn’t that be amazing?