Anyone who knows the work of street artists Sworne and Ernest Doty knows their “LORDS” references have nothing to do with religion — not in the slightest. The lettering is an acronym for “Legends Of Rare DesignS,” a group of stalwart street artists that includes Sworne and Doty and which has existed in the Bay Area since 1986.
The LORDS moniker adorns walls around the Bay Area, and the Oakland work at Market Street near 30th Street depicts a face by Doty that he says is from a future world. In that world, a purple-haired, human-like creature will be a norm, not an exception. Doty, who lives in Oakland, has done a series of figures on Bay Area walls that he calls “surreal future pop art,” including an Oakland mural at Oak and Fifth streets titled Cosmic Human Evolution that SF Weekly spotlighted two years ago.
“It’s a kind of anamorphic figure — a combination of a barn owl and a woman,” Doty says about his figure with Sworne. “All the characters I paint are a little bit malformed and twisted — with a lot of twisting line work. They’re supposed to be all shamanistic characters, and they’re also supposed to be futuristic. We as a species have the ability to reach great potential: enlightenment. And I think we’ll get there. But I think it’s going to be too late, and it’ll be at a cost to ourselves and our environment. So these are our future ancestors, and they’re reconnected with nature. There will be different types of beings.”
The work with Sworne, which went up in 2017, is one of Oakland’s best. What elevates it are its rapturous red color, its beautiful three-dimensional lettering that fuses white, black, and slivers of yellow — and Doty’s unforgettable face. Even with its left eye a bit discombobulated through the force of time, the work is a standout. So much so that the business owners on both sides have welcomed the art. (So has the property’s owner, Doty says.)
Doty and Sworne didn’t get initial permission to do the work. But it covered up a wall — a storefront with boarded-up windows, really — that was frequently tagged with wheat-pasted posters. The property owner has since invited Doty and Sworne to touch up their art — and has even given them a heads-up that he may repurpose the property a bit.
“It was a dilapidated building for as long as I can remember,” says Doty, who has lived in West Oakland for 11 years. “I got up one morning and said, ‘I’m tired of looking at that ugly-ass building,’ and went out and painted it. … The new owner reached out to me and asked if I would repaint it. And the business owner next door is super appreciative because no one has wheat-pasted on it since then. He told me, ‘I’m so happy. I was always out here killing off these paper stickers.’ ”
A couple of years ago, in another part of West Oakland, Doty put up new street art that an older resident thought would contain a reference to organized religion. The resident was a believer in God, and when he asked Doty about the artwork’s purpose, Doty was, well, evasive.
“There was a religious man who lived across the street who kept bothering us while we were painting it,” Doty says, “and we said, ‘Oh, it’s going to say Lord.’ And he was like, ‘Oh yeah,’ and he was all on-board. And nowadays, he’s happy to see me when I touch it up.”