In a nondescript strip mall on Eighth and Union near MacArthur Park, a Guatemalan restaurant and a dental office flank a laundromat with the no-nonsense name Coin-Laundry. Other neighbors include a discount store and a doughnut shop.
Inside the laundromat are the requisite rows of washers and dryers, but here and there you'll also spot delicate illustrations mounted on the walls in clear plastic frames. One of the pieces depicts a girl who appears to be diving into water, her nude body curled up into a ball with her hair floating above her.
L.A.-based Stephanie Surtida recently mounted the series of paintings, which she calls “Pretty Laundry.” The watercolor pieces take on the theme of nature and water, breaking up the monotony of the laundromat's bare white walls.
Surtida graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and started working as a trend forecaster, spending her time drawing designer fashion pieces. Over time, she started branching out from fashion illustration. Her practice turned toward the exploration of the female body in different positions, highlighting each curve. Surtida found herself breaking away from traditional modes of drawing and sketching, tapping into something she calls “intuitive illustrating” instead. This practice informed the work she created for "Pretty Laundry."
“These ideas just came out of my head,” says Surtida. “There were no pre-sketches involved. I just put pen to paper and drew what I had in my mind and made mistakes here and there. That’s what intuitive illustration is about for me. … It involved human error, but I think that’s what people usually appreciate. That’s how they connect with my work.”
In this way, Surtida emphasizes, the final work actually ends up much more spontaneous — and in some instances more aesthetically pleasing — than when she spends too much time thinking about the design.
Surtida and her boyfriend, Chris Ruiz, worked together on “Pretty Laundry.” Ruiz helped her secure the location and, with the blessing of the owner, they began thinking of how to display the pieces. There’s a certain fluidity in the works. The figures seem to be caught in mid-movement, as if each piece is a candid snapshot. For Surtida, the greatest satisfaction comes from watching people take in her art during an otherwise average visit.
“I’ve seen people really observe and stare at it,” says Surtida. “That’s what I like. ... I’d rather see that than get actual feedback. As soon as I hear feedback, I’m like ‘no!’ Whether it’s positive or negative, I’m running away, like, ‘I don’t wanna hear it, it’s just gonna get in the way of my thinking and my process and it’s just gonna get to my head.’ It’s just good enough to see that people notice it.”
Surtida wanted to create the exhibition as a way to give back to the community, to offer art in a free and accessible way. As opposed to her usual illustrations, these feature no clothing and focus instead on the female body.
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“I really love a woman’s figure and I appreciate every curve in her body,” says Surtida. “And I love drawing it. I don’t know why. It’s just so fun to draw. Instead of drawing layers of clothing — I mean I could do that all day.”
The artist grew up in L.A., and in many ways the city and its fashionable citizens influence her work. “I'm not always on the hunt looking at the latest fashion these days,” says Surtida. “I used to, but I like that people are fashion-conscious here, so it just keeps the inspiration flowing. People are really creative with the way they dress, and I guess subconsciously I look to that.”
But you don’t need to know anything about fashion to enjoy “Pretty Laundry.” The nude figures seem like mystical creatures in their own world, visiting the laundromat for a limited time to add their own sort of magic to the space.
Surtida plans to leave the work up for an open-ended run and hopes to find other alternative spaces to display her work. If more laundromats in L.A. had art in them, maybe folding clothes wouldn’t be such a drag.