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LA's notoriously stealthy freeway sign artist still up to his old tricks

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Richard Ankrom knows a little something about traffic signs: Despite hours of staring at them each day, you really don't notice them until you miss them. (KABC)

Richard Ankrom knows a little something about traffic signs: Despite hours of staring at them each day, you really don't notice them until you miss them.

That's what spurred the artist and sign maker to make a national splash back in 2001, when he secretly designed, built and installed a 5 Freeway north traffic sign over the 110 Freeway.

"I used to live in Orange County and had gotten lost because it wasn't adequately signed," Ankrom said. That's when it dawned on him. "I'm a sign guy. I could do this."

And he did. For nine months, his homemade sign stood screwed onto the already standing 110 north sign with no one at Caltrans even noticing it. When he eventually leaked it to the press, Ankrom's artistic traffic piece gained national attention.

"I had my 15 minutes of fame," he said. "It lasted about two hours."

But the sign lasted for eight years. Caltrans loved it, eventually upgrading it with a similar design.

And in the 15-plus years since Akrom's fake sign went up, guerilla artists like Banksy have lit the world on fire with their secretive street art.

Even the city of Glendale has commissioned an artist to install zen-like traffic signs throughout its parks.

Ankrom says if you want to find more of his public art, check out any flags flying overhead. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, he began creating flags that are identical to American flags, only he added nine more stars.

"One extra star at the end of each row, so instead of 50 there's 59," he explained. "Unless you count them you won't really see it." He said he replaced the flags at several Mexican American War monuments across Southern California with his flags as a way to make a statement about the invasion.

Ankrom is up to other hijinks as well, but says he keeps each piece of art secret for seven years before going public.

"I have to wait for the statute of limitations so I don't go to jail," Ankrom said.

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