About the Project
The LA Liber Amicorum was a project at Getty Research Institute that resulted in the production of a unique artists' book featuring 143 works on paper by some of Los Angeles's most renowned graffiti and tattoo artists, as well as an accompanying exhibition, publication, public program, and video series. This decade-long project was initiated by Los Angeles-based collectors Ed and Brandy Sweeney.
In 2013, 151 artists were invited to the Research Institute's archives to examine its collections. These viewings were led by David Brafman, associate curator of rare books at the Research Institute. The artists explored objects like writing manuals, emblem books, sketchbooks, virtuoso engravings, and penwork from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, including a 16th-century manuscript called a liber amicorum or "book of friends." The making of this manuscript followed an early popular tradition in which a book bound with blank leaves was passed from hand to hand and filled with signatures, poetry, and coats of arms—famous symbols and expressive artistry of the time.
Centuries later, contemporary graffiti artists follow the same tradition by inviting crew members and other artists to inscribe their black sketchbooks with lettering or drawings. The artists invited to the Research Institute implemented this collaborative practice to produce the book LA Liber Amicorum, inspired and named after the manuscript. It binds together their works on paper, presenting the artists' individual creative approaches to letterforms, hand styles, symbols, signs, and themes that represent L.A.'s diverse graffiti and street art landscape. It is also known as the Getty Graffiti Black Book, or simply Getty Black Book, in reference to the culture of black sketchbooks circulated among graffiti artists.
The LA Liber Amicorum was exhibited at ESMoA from June 8–September 21, 2014, as part of the exhibition SCRATCH. Graffiti and tattoo artists covered the walls and floors of the gallery, bringing the concept of the project to life.
View all original works of LA Liber Amicorum
The L.A. Graffiti Black Book is a publication that features all the artworks produced as part this project. Because the original LA Liber Amicorum is archived in the Research Institute's vaults, the L.A. Graffiti Black Book was published in 2020 to make these pieces accessible to the public. Alongside reproductions of the 151 works on paper, the publication also features text by David Brafman about the collaborative project.
Public Program: Artists in Conversation
On May 18, 2021, the GRI hosted a conversation with five contributing artists to L.A. Graffiti Black Book in a discussion about the volume's impact on their art practices. David Brafman moderated a conversation between artists Eric "King Cre8" Walker, Juan Carlos "Heaven" Muñoz Hernandez, Eddie "Fishe" Rico, Alex "Defer" Kizu, and Alex "AXIS" Ventura.
The publication of the L.A. Graffiti Black Book also inspired a video series, produced in 2021 by Getty, featuring some of the artists who contributed to the original LA Liber Amicorum. The series chronicles the personal stories and inspirations of the artists in the creation of their artworks, showcasing their specialized techniques and revealing how their artistic practices are influenced by their communities and connection to history.