The belly of Topanga Canyon seems tranquil enough. Brown and olive hills tumble gracefully into the glittering Pacific Ocean; quiet trails lead to dusty woods with spots of solitude. But shooting off State Route 27, the canyon's main drag, hundreds of miles of windy roads snake into the hills and tell a different story; they're gateways to trippy, hallucinate-like communities where artists bring their darkest, wildest Alice in Wonderland fantasies to life.
This Saturday and Sunday, a collective of those 42 artists will be showing their work. Legendary skateboard cartoons, ink and canvas drawings and neon 3D imagery will hang in homes and studios next to bowls fashioned from hubcap molds, and glass blown in the basement of a Hollywood props designer.
In the middle of the unincorporated community, Topanga Canyon Gallery sits as part of a quaint cluster of shops. Visitors to this weekend's $15 event will grab a map from the gallery (or download it at topangacanyongallery.com), then follow it by car to studios of their choosing. In a brief pre-show tour, we saw the studios of six artists, each different, each working to their own tune.
Potter Rebecca Catterall works in an enclave reached after coasting past bloated Crafstmans and re-envisioned Capes. Overlooking miles of hills and homes — including a grand, whitewashed hacienda — her backyard doubles as her studio, where she fashions everything from pie plates to recreations of the infamous Jesus Toast.
"It's a lifestyle," she says of her home and workspace. "You have that solitude; it does matter to me to have some peace and quiet."
Up the canyon about five miles, Roya Adjory has plastered her home with intricate, layered canvases topped with neon pink puff paint. One day, Adjory's niece put on a pair of 3D glasses and turned to the painter. "Did you know that these look three-dimensional?" she said.
Adjory describes her mesmerizing work as having accidentally created an "X dimension," an Avatar-like experience wherein brighter colors pop forward and darker, more muted colors recede. Inside her studio, Adjory has an Andre Malraux quote: "The only domain where the divine is visible is that of art."
In a tiny, shed-like studio further north from Adjory, Bill Jehle is showing his own work and the work of Lynn E. Coleman. Coleman's aggressive, dark depictions of skateboard punks —- which include dead alligators seen through the eyes of protagonist Alley Gator, and Alley Gator doing alley-oops and pounding the skate park pavement —- are original prints from the legendary 1980s skate magazine Thrasher.
The images weren't agonized over or treated preciously; instead, Coleman tossed them off when she was a young mom. "These were nice and small," she says of the iconic ink renderings. "I could do it, then leave it and attend to whoever was crying."
Jehle is showing meandering black and white drawings, clusters of shapes and doodles. He calls them "meditation drawings," but this is no peaceful contemplation; the images look like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas come to gruesome life. Get close and you suddenly see enormous, dead-eyed lizards; trippy clowns; and proud, uniformed badgers in full police regalia.
"In these," he says, "I just followed the pen."
Beyond Adjory, Jehle and Coleman, visitors can head to the home of Megan Geer-Aslop. Inside a shifty wooden gate, Geer-Aslop's two small children are running around covered in dirt, in the midst of what looks like a psychedelic fairy dream. Lush greenery dangles over a winding path; orange glass lanterns hang from a crooked tree.
Geer-Aslop's art lives in two studios; one for ceramics and another for stained glass, which she installs into instruments and furniture found in vintage stores.
"This is like my treehouse," she says of the ceramics studio.
Our final stop is the home of Kim Bolanowski. Dropped on top of a high hill —- so high that we are literally above the clouds when we pull in through the massive wooden gates — it's unnervingly isolated. A long, winding driveway takes visitors up to the main house, which, one of our crew notes, looks like the home of a Colombian drug lord.
"There should be guards," he says, simulating holding a machine gun across his chest. "Pablo Escobar."
Inside, Bolanowski's dining room table is covered in glass bowls, glass vases, and other glass items and sculptures, which she makes together with her husband. Both are hugely successful Hollywood types; in fact, she tells us as she guides us downstairs, Ron is making all of the props for Ghostbusters 3.
The tour is ostensibly about art. But beyond that, it's a deep dive into the strangeness that is Los Angeles; the homes of people who've clawed their way to the top, people whose demons have chased them into the hills until they couldn't go any further; people who have escaped, either into the scenery or into their own minds.
Most of the artists say that they're inspired by the canyon, and it's not hard to guess why; it's quiet, peaceful and affords plenty of meditative time. For some artists, this kind of isolation would be a self-imposed lock-up. But for those who live here, it's a blank canvas, to create —- and to be — whatever they want.
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To go this weekend: Purchase tickets online and download a map to the studios, which are sprinkled along the ravines, lanes and side canyons throughout opanga Canyon. Tickets covering both days are $15 in advance or $20 at Topanga Canyon Gallery, which can provide a physical map at the door.
The Topanga Canyon Art Tour is Saturday, May 30 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 31 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Meet the artists at a casual reception and silent auction on Saturday from 5-8 p.m. at Topanga Canyon Gallery, hosted by gallery member Rebecca Catterall.
To buy tickets: topangacanyongallery.com, or call 310 455-7909.