original painting by Brooke Harker
This painting depicts the historic Sterling Plaza on Wilshire Blvd, built originally as the California Bank Building in 1929. The featured car in this painting, a blue and white taxi, unique to the city of Beverly Hills, is a time capsule. As many cabs switch to hybrid models, the sedan shape continues to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of urgency in me. I feel compelled to capture images of these cars in action before they are gone. I’ve tended to be especially drawn to cabs in Beverly Hills because they give me a way to relate to the city, famous for elegance and affluence. Having grown up in a mainly middle class town in Iowa, I only saw such wealth and abundance through the fictional lives of characters on television and in the movies. If taxis existed in the town I grew up in, I can’t remember ever seeing one or knowing anyone who used one. It would’ve made more sense to call a friend for a ride. There is still something very fancy and fun to me about a taxi ride. However, in Beverly Hills, a taxi is probably the least fancy car on the road. It moves through the city with a job to do, as I have done over the years. In my first decade in LA, I worked in hundreds of homes in Beverly Hills as a special events performer for children. I fell instantly in love with this job as it combined a love of costumes, live performance, and a passion for working with children. The roles I played in gowns, tiaras and a long list of other characters, allowed me to connect with people I might not have encountered otherwise. I met people with lavish homes, gardeners, chefs, housekeepers, drivers, nannies, interior designers, stylists, bookkeepers, dog walkers, party planners and the list goes on. Initially the close up view of extravagant homes and lives surprised me consistently. Exposure to any culture with a different way of life can instigate a bit of confusion. I grew accustomed to seeing catered buffets for five year olds and more money spent on a birthday for a one year old than the cost of my college education. Part of me wanted to make sense of the situation by judging people for how they spent their money, but in reality I judged myself. Beneath my bubbly demeanor, I felt like the hired help, like I was somehow less than the people I worked for because I hadn’t strived for or acquired such a lifestyle. Then one day, I met a woman who helped shift my perspective. I’d played Snow White that day, and as I paused in front of a mirror in a grand hallway, beneath a crystal chandelier, to check my black bobbed wig, one of the moms at the party stopped to tell me how much she admired and envied my life…I was shocked. Would she envy me if she saw my bank account, lack of 401K, and if she knew that there was no actual Prince Charming at home doing the laundry as I had just told the kids there was? She admired the confidence it took to show up in the home of strangers and so joyfully connect with children. She expressed that she felt tired and wished she had my energy and spirit. It hadn’t occurred to me that a beautifully put together woman with a husband and kids might envy my life. I began to see the duality that exists in anyone’s life, especially with extreme wealth. She saw me as free. In truth, I was. It was me who’d put myself in the occasional mental cage of inferiority and resentment. For that reason, Beverly Hills began to represent a place of both freedom and captivity. With the infinite opportunities associated with financial abundance, common for many people who live in Beverly Hills, there is also a responsibility that I find daunting. The more stuff a person has, the more decisions there are to make and the more people in requires to maintain such a life. All of this takes time and energy. The choice to create that life, is simply that, one of infinite choices. I wouldn’t have had the adventure of that job which supported my artistic life when I arrived in LA had there not been affluent people to appreciate those services.This painting salutes a world that takes all kinds of people.