The TV shows produced by animation studio Klasky Csupo -- Rugrats, Wild Thornberrys, The Simpsons, Aahhh!! Real Monsters, the list goes on -- either enchanted or mildly freaked out their young viewers, who grew up in the '80s and '90s. The studio's affinity for exaggerated proportions, creaky voices and the occasional surrealist sequence balanced out the comfortable "learning-of-a-lesson" that usually occurred by an episode's end.
Having grown up loving Rugrats since before I was old enough for the show's TV-Y7 rating, it was interesting to visit the newly-opened art gallery of Gabor Csupo -- the less-pronounceable half of the husband and wife team whose studio essentially established Nickelodeon's place in children's entertainment. Though Csupo and Arlene Klasky divorced in 1996, they are still actively involved with their company, which they started in a two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood.
The opening of Gabor's new gGallery, mere blocks away from the beach in Santa Monica and within sight of Third Street Promenade, grants some insight into Csupo's electic aesthetic influences.
Csupo -- a native of Hungary whose last name sounds like "tshoo-poe" -- was inspired to open gGallery after growing a little bored with Hollywood (one of his more recent projects was directing Bridge to Terabithia, and he was the supervising animation director for the earliest episodes of The Simpsons).
"My agent gave me something like 20 screenplays, and I didn't like any of it, so I started to get frustrated. I wanted to do something different. I needed some fresh blood," he says. "I'm very comfortable with my money so I don't have to do anything, but I do it to feel stimulated."
Though Csupo has collected art for years, all the pieces in the gallery are only about three and a half months old. "I can't afford the really, really expensive things," he demurs. He has a trove of limited edition, estate-signed or lithographic pieces by Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Matisse, Dali and Modigliani (his absolute favorite). Suddenly, his animation style makes perfect sense.
He's combed local art fairs and overseas art markets; sometimes he'd find random jewels on artists' websites. "If I see something I like, I don't care if it's a painting for $50, I just go after it. I also get a lot of submissions, but most of them I don't like," Csupo says, shaking his head.
Even more prominently displayed than the "old masters," which sit in a smaller, white room behind the gallery stairs, are Csupo's collection of "new masters," including Mo Nong, Jeff Hughart, David Hockney and Francoise Nielly. More than half a dozen pieces by French artist Philippe Noyer line the gallery's left wall ("Because it's Bastille Day today," someone tells me). Some works look fragile, composed of spider-thin lines, while others are heavily textured with broad swaths. If one thing is clear from this collection, it is that Csupo loves color.
The one exception to that rule is perhaps the undeniable star of the evening, as far as visual art goes: Baron Margo, a local sculptor whose work is all steampunk -- hard, glinting metal that breathes futuristic industrialism, with a measure of whimsy. Parked outside on the street, next to a big searchlight, is Margo's rocket car. Or one of them -- he makes a bunch. Barrelling down the road, it probably looks like a giant, badass bullet.
Csupo is an amiable man, mingling effortlessly and effusively while sipping a plastic goblet of white wine and sporting a yellow gGallery button and a gold necklace with an elaborate gear pendant given to him that night by Margo himself.
"There's something I miss about an atmosphere like this," he says, referring to the pulsing music, the flurry of disco lights and the din of voices tinged with foreign accents. "I just breathe art for air." His pale blue eyes wander.
Just then, a flash of dirty blonde hair wearing white converse sneakers collides with Csupo, almost knocking him out of orbit. "Daddy!" He gives her three loud kisses in quick succession as she tells him ecstatically how much she loves the gallery. She's almost as tall as he is.
"My daughter," Csupo beams as she runs off, two sneaker-wearing friends in tow. "She's an artist -- she always paints." (When she finds him later, she reaches out and pinches a tuft of his hair: "Daddy, I love your new haircut!")
Most of the partygoers are artists, filmmakers or musicians -- creative types. To Csupo's delighted surprise, even old friends, people he hadn't seen for 10 years, showed up.
A few wondered aloud, "Do you remember what this place used to be?" Their companions replied, "I don't know, but it must have been something big." (It used to be another art gallery).
Csupo picked this location partly because it's minutes from the beach and partly because he sees Venice and Santa Monica as artistic hubs. Also, the space's floor plan and former shabbiness appealed to his creative impulses.
"I sometimes buy houses and fix them up. The junkier, the more i like it because I know that most people can't figure out what to do with it," he says.
Csupo said that as soon as he saw the little stage by the window, he knew that he wanted to use the gallery space as a mini concert venue for one of his favorite bands, the L.A.-based Nostalghia, whom he describes as "a beautifully haunting neoclassical avant electronica goth art band" (they call themselves "post-apocalyptic gypsy punk"). Every Friday, he's inviting them to perform at an "Artcrowd Cluster" party at the gallery, complete with free booze and refreshments.
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When Nostalghia takes the stage at 10 p.m., willowy front woman Ciscandra (who really does embody "gypsy punk" with black-lined eyes, crimson lipstick, a floor-length white dress and a matching head scarf with gold detail) contorts her voice into bone-melting shrieks and exalted gasps bordering on hyperventilation. She's alternately the soulful chanteuse and the diva made for people to look at her. It's easy to see why Csupo adores them.
He's a musician, too, and has recorded eight ambient electronica albums with track names ranging from "Anal Sorrow" and "Wet Dream of Princess" to "Spiders in High Heels" and "Intergalactic Frog Wedding."
Wonder what we could do to convince him to make an "Aahhh!!! Real Monsters" episode with one of those titles.