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Carded With Care

Artist Gajin Fujita autographs a large print of his artwork now available as a Los Angeles Public Library card. From left are his wife Angela, Senior Librarian Pearl Yonezawa and City Librarian John F. Szabo. (Photos courtesy L.A. Public Library)

A street-styled makeover of L.A.’s iconic library card by artist Gajin Fujita is currently available at all 73 locations of the Los Angeles Public Library citywide.

The limited-edition card’s strik­ing design, unveiled last April and available while supplies last, blends imagery of traditional Japanese mythology and contemporary L.A. graffiti art.

“I feel honored to contribute my artwork for this special edition library card,” said Fujita, an East L.A. native. “Growing up, my local library in Boyle Heights was the R. L. Stevenson Branch, and it was a sanctuary for my brothers and me.

“The librarian there, who is also Japanese American, really looked out for me. And beyond the access to books, magazines and refuge – the library had A/C on hot days!”

The card’s image is a detail of Fujita’s painting “Guardian Angel,” which features Kintaro, or Golden Boy, a mythical child known for his uncanny strength. Kintaro was a protector of the common folk, a champion of the people, and a sym­bol of bravery and courage.

The composition is based on an ukiyo-e print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi from 1868.

Inspired by a 19th-century ukiyo-e print, Fujita’s design incorporates a Dodgers jersey and art by his graffiti crew.

“To contemporize the imagery, I dressed Kintaro in a Dodgers jersey with a bandana wrapped around his neck,” says Fujita. “I also added black marks beneath his eyes, like an athlete ready to compete. The panels are gilded with gold leaf and tagged by members of my graffiti crew K2S and other graffiti writers. I wanted to create a work that very much embodied the spirit of Los Angeles through my own experiences.”

“We are thrilled to have local art­ist Gajin Fujita featured our library card,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo. “His bold design perfectly complements the card’s tremendous power. This is the only card that lets you access more than 6 million books and items in the library’s collection, as well as download e-books and music, stream movies, get online homework help, earn a high school diploma, and much, much more— and all for free.”

Fujita established himself on the streets of Los Angeles with graffiti crews KGB and K2S, but his earliest artistic influences were informed by his father, who was a painter, and his mother, a conservator of Japanese an­tiquities. Fujita continued his artistic pursuits by earning a BFA from Otis College of Art + Design, and his works are in institutions worldwide, including the Getty Research Insti­tute, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

As a second-generation Japanese American, Fujita found himself drawn to the Japanese folkloric heroes and legends that he came to know through his parents, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Japan. These stories and traditions were an important part of his up­bringing.

This is the Los Angeles Public Library’s second limited-edition li­brary card designed by an artist. The first was designed by Shepard Fairey and Cleon Peterson and released in 2016.

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