"I can smash it, burn it, repaint it," says Arthure "Art" Moore to two girls lingering beside one of the paintings he has arranged in his regular spot, on a relatively quiet stretch of the Venice Beach boardwalk. Quiet here just means "not chaotic," no street performers whizzing by, no pot shop across the way.
"Whatever you want, I can do it," Moore adds, but if the girls decide they do want the painting, one of Moore's "Funky Pussy" pictures of a wily cat with its middle finger extended, he'll likely suggest it's perfect the way it is.
Moore has other funky subjects: Funky Buddha giving the finger, Funky Frida giving the finger. "She's your very first anarchist," Moore says of painter Frida Kahlo. "What she really wanted to do was say 'fuck you' to all America."
In 2007, Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick had bought her first Funky Pussy painting, and later bought a painting by Moore, called Fuck It, in which a guy who's had a bad day plunges a fork into a toaster. She bought a few more Funky Pussy paintings as gifts before introducing herself to Moore and asking if he would be interested in working on a project with her.
Subotnick wanted to put on a Venice Beach Biennial. Its title would riff on the Venice Biennale, the famed art show held since 1895 along the canals in Venice, Italy, but this would be its own animal. Veteran vendors and contemporary "art-world" artists would coexist for a weekend, selling their art objects side by side and performing in the city Parks & Rec space and along the boardwalk.
Moore agreed to participate. For the last few months, a rendering of his Funky Pussy, a pink one with a particularly long middle finger, has been on banners, postcards, totes and the Hammer's home page. Moore also has acted as a liaison between museum and boardwalk artists and given the non-boardwalk artists tours to prep them for the biennial, scheduled for July 13-15 as part of the museum's larger "Made in L.A." project. Each morning of the biennial, they'll have to show up at 5 a.m. to claim a spot along with all the regular vendors. "You're not in your galleries anymore," he tells them. "You're in the trenches now."
The first time I meet Art Moore, who has unruly blond hair and paint splattered across his jeans and sandals, I ask him how long he's been a painter, and he acts confused. "I just don't know," he says. "A couple of weeks at least." He turns to his friend, artist Al Culbertson, who's packing up the adjoining spot. "How long have I been painting, Al?" Al, stone-faced, says, "Let me check," and looks at his watch.
The second time I meet Moore, he begins telling me about how, at age 28, he left his job as a general contractor in San Diego and moved up to Venice Beach, when a cop rolls up in his patrol car and summons Moore to the passenger's side window. After a few minutes of interrogation (what happened to that big painting you had earlier, the officer wants to know, and who is that you're talking to?), Moore returns while the officer writes him a citation. "He says he saw me with a beer 30 minutes ago," Moore explains. "He should be busting those guys selling the T-shirts" — only art objects handmade by the person selling them are allowed in the boardwalk's "free speech zone," but that law is hard to enforce. "It's just that I'm an easier target."
Moore has been on the boardwalk for more than 30 years, and for at least the first 20, he sold small ceramic items, like personalized casts of people's faces. Then about 12 years ago, a girlfriend of his — "Yes, I had a girlfriend," he jokes — inspired his "shock" project. "She said, 'Baby, it's my birthday, can I have a cat please?' " he remembers. "But she pissed me off, see? I said, 'Sure I'll give you a cat.' " He made her the first Funky Pussy. "She loved it. We even had sex that night. That's when I realized people want a shock."
After the cop car pulls away, three women walk by Moore's work. "Amazing," says one. "Phenomenal, cutting-edge," Moore replies, "and psychotic." They leave and Moore observes, "There are so many better artists than me, but people aren't really buying the painting. They're buying the energy."
Curator Subotnick loves that energy, the feeling of irreverent independence that hangs over the whole boardwalk. She has since she was 17, studying for a semester at UCLA, going down to Venice Beach every day to shop for jewelry and hair wraps while working on her tan. "It's eclectic. You can get anything there, and these artists make whatever art they want," she says. "Any other place, this wouldn't still exist."