As the Academy polished the Oscar trophies to a golden sheen last week, L.A. street artist Plastic Jesus was putting the finishing touches on his own version of the shiny little men. On Feb. 28th at 3:30 in the morning, Plastic Jesus installed a shocking statue close to the Oscars red carpet on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and La Brea Ave: an Oscar award shooting heroin with a plaque reading, "Hollywood's Best Kept Secret."
In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, the provocative work sheds light on the public perception of drug abuse. Plastic Jesus, who has lost family members to complications related to heroin, does not see his work as a sharp critique of the rich and famous but, rather, uses it as a way to open the conversation about drug addiction. His other works include a giant dollar bill, credit card, and lines of fake cocaine, a work themed on the Chris Christie traffic scandal, and a stencil of a girl praying to an ATM ringed in tinsel and Christmas lights. We spoke to the artist about his new work, Hollywood's Best Kept Secret in our Interview: Street Artist Plastic Jesus Opens Up About His Heroin Shooting Oscar Statue.
The piece wasn't intended as a piece of entertainment, capitalizing on the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's intended to be a wake-up call focusing on the issue of hard drug use in Hollywood.
Can you explain your process? How did you make and install this sculpture?
I wanted to create a striking piece that would tackle the often tragic issue of hard drug use head-on. The piece was made using a mannequin that was significantly modified. A mannequin is designed to look good in a shop window, so every joint had to be cut and reset—the ankles, knees hips, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. After all the joints were made smooth, it was painted with eight coats of Montana chrome gold acrylic and then lacquered to give it a metallic finish.
The piece is detached from the base, so it can be set up and removed without much difficulty.
What reaction were you expecting when you placed the sculpture near the Oscars red carpet?
Initially, I was unsure of the reaction the piece would receive. It's a serious issue, and I was unsure if people would understand the issue I wanted to convey. The piece wasn't intended as a piece of entertainment, capitalizing on the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's intended to be a wake-up call focusing on the issue of hard drug use in Hollywood.
On a personal note, I lost two family members from heroin addiction, so I've experienced the effect it can have on an otherwise "ordinary" family.
On a technical level, I also wanted the piece to look impressive. I try to create pieces that are well engineered and finished to a high standard.
You have said that this sculpture was created to end the stigma around hard drug use in Hollywood. Do you think that is how people have reacted to it?
Yes, I do. There have been a few negative reactions, but I've been overwhelmed by the support the piece has received across the spectrum, from street art lovers to people in the industry in Hollywood. More importantly for me, the piece has the support of many drug awareness, rehab, and intervention groups.
It's quite shocking, and that's intentional with most of my pieces.
This sculpture brings together two events in pop culture: Philip Seymour Hoffman's death and the Oscars. It seems like your timing was perfect. Was this something you planned?
Most definitely. The inspiration for much of my street art comes from news and current affairs, so timing is hugely important. And although I never wished the piece to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the Awards, hopefully the timing would make them think about the issue.
How is this work different or similar from your other street art installations?
The piece is similar in many ways. First, it's quite shocking, and that's intentional with most of my pieces, and also the detail in the standard of construction is pretty high, which is always something I aim for.
How is it different? I guess on a practical note it was intended to be mobile. I knew it would get stolen if left in one place for too long. Many of my pieces get stolen.
What does it mean to have the Oscar award, a symbol of honor and success, appear as a heroin user? Are you criticizing the award culture in Hollywood along with drug use?
I'm not criticizing the award culture; it's a very important aspect of the industry. Hollywood is hugely influential throughout the world, and it's good that that is recognized. However, the piece is intended to draw attention to one of Hollywood's failings: the fact that hard drugs are being used and there is such a stigma connected to their use that often people don't get the help and support they need.