So expansive was the exhibit celebrating Billy Shire's legendary -- don't call it lowbrow! -- L.A. art gallery's 25th anniversary, it had to be split into two separate shows, one featuring work from the art haven's humble beginnings, and one offering later works from a wide array of pop surrealists, punky painters and revered auteurs who made a name for themselves there.
The second part of La Luz De Jesus' retrospective, unveiled with opening parties this past weekend, is a must-view for fans of all that is irreverent, colorful, and alternative culture-influenced, maybe even more than part one was. While the first decade of talents who emerged from La Luz mostly complemented the gallery's popular Day of the Dead decor and hotrod-ish merch, it all soon grew beyond the Mexican folklore-flavored and morbidly provocative stuff. For the past 25 years, La Luz has offered diverse visions and creations, with something for everyone... except maybe snooty fine art collectors.
Before its current Silver Lake spot, the gallery was first housed above Shire's popular Soap Plant and Wacko shops when they were on Melrose and Martel Ave. Melrose was widely known as the trendy shopping mecca at the time and La Luz was its epicenter. It was indeed a "light," that not only brightened the art scene in L.A., but influenced it on an international scale.
We got to take a closer look at the retrospective's companion book, La Luz De Jesus -- 25, at this show and it illustrates Shire's influence better than anything else. A piece by each artist is featured along with anecdotes and mini-essays about Shire and the gallery's early days. The Simpson's Matt Groening talks about his "Life In Hell" opening (his comic strip of the same name also ran in the Weekly) and how mischievous Shire hired some kids to "make his life hell" at the event, while Don "Ed Hardy" recalls how Shire gave him his first real art show in 1993 (well before his tattoo designs became synonymous with doucheville fashion courtesy of Christian Audigier).
Also contributing praises: Shag, Frank Kozik, Mark Mothersbaugh (who calls Shire "the Hugh Hefner of hip"), The Pizz (who likens him to a "Pimp Pirate"), and Mark Ryden (who says Shire's space was "a beacon of artistic inspiration"). There are many heartfelt reminiscences about the gallery's early days and rollicking parties too, and reading it cover to cover is not unlike diving into an underground L.A. oral history.
For those who were not there during this period, the tome conjures what it was like from those who spear-headed this unique art movement here and brought it into the mainstream. For those who were there (such as yours truly), it's a fascinating walk down memory lane. You don't have to be an artist to be inspired or excited by La Luz's exhibits or its bodacious beer kegger opening parties. We've been going to them for two decades now, and both continue to be lively, fun and unpredictable.
Art lovers should most definitely buy the book, but we suggest seeing the show in person as well. A lot of the work is 3-dimentional and all of it makes most sense in context of the venue itself. La Luz has an adjoining book, toy and tchotchke store that goes way beyond the "exit through the gift shop" setup, and it always has. They already seem stocked and chocked for early holiday shopping too.
La Luz De Jesus' 25th Anniversary Show (Part 2) runs though Nov. 27. 4633 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 663-0243. See
the website for more info.