Artworks, Poetry Projects, Commemorative Posters

An Ode to the Essential

A line drawing of a Los Angeles cityscape.

Dedicated to our essential workers and to those we have lost.

“An ode to the Metro workers moving through the front lines
of this poem. An ode to the one who recognized me
even with the masks and half an empty bus between us.
I saw her in the overhead mirror and she saw me. The yellow line
has moved farther back but we still can say hello. I wanted
to tell her this and I still don’t know a fancy or poetic way to say it.
I needed this ride. I’m glad you came when you did. Thank you. 

-Joseph Rios

A line drawing of a Los Angeles cityscape with a poem.

Produced in 2021, An Ode To The Essential is a tribute dedicated to all essential workers and to those we have lost. The tribute features an original poem by Joseph Rios with text in a reflective gold reminiscent of the glow of afternoon light and suspended over a delicate line drawing of a distinctly Los Angeles cityscape by artist Manuel López. Both the artist and the poet are transit riders whose individual pieces, unique and produced independently of one another, were each inspired by their experiences riding Metro before and during the pandemic.

The tribute is on display across the Metro system— from printed bus, rail and platform digital displays to Metro work sites including maintenance facilities, bus divisions, customer care centers, and offices.

Images of Joseph Rios and Manuel López.

Manuel López (left) and Joseph Rios (right)

MANUEL LÓPEZ (b.1983, East Los Angeles, CA) is a Los Angeles-based artist known for drawing. Exploring the traditional notions of portraiture, interiors, still life drawing and landscapes, López relies on interest, observation, memories, materiality, and touch of his immediate surroundings to evoke feelings of familiarity amongst viewers. Each drawing results from a careful examination of elements found in his environment. López attended East Los Angeles College and School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he earned his BFA in Painting and Drawing. He has exhibited in group and solo shows nationwide and locally, including Cuentista Sur Biennial at Rio Hondo Gallery, Last Projects, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Lancaster Museum of Art and History, New Image Art, Self-Help Graphics and Art, The Clemente, Vincent Price Art Museum, the Betty Rymer Gallery, Sullivan Galleries and Eastern Projects.

JOSEPH RIOS (b. 1987, Fresno, CA) is a poet who has been a gardener, a janitor, a packinghouse supervisor, a bar manager, and a handyman.  Rios is a long-time transit rider —and collector of Poetry in Motion car cards— who was temporarily working in a Los Angeles grocery store when he wrote An Ode to the Essential, and has since relocated to his hometown of Fresno, California in the San Joaquin Valley. Rios is a graduate of Fresno City College and the University of California, Berkeley. He was named one of the notable Debut Poets by Poets & Writers Magazine for 2017, and is the author of Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations ( Omnidawn), which won an American Book Award in 2018. He is currently attending the low residency MFA program at Bennington College.

A line drawing of a Los Angeles cityscape with a poem.

The poem An Ode to the Essential first appeared as part of Metro Art’s Instagram video series in collaboration with the Poetry Society of America in April and May 2020. Listen to Joseph Rios reading an excerpt on May 1, 2020.