While out on an afternoon stroll this past Sunday, Colleen Crosby found herself drawn to the orange paper lantern and colorful, framed stencil-work at the opening of a driveway a few blocks from her home. Entering the front yard of artist Diana Cheng, Crosby discovered a large table covered in vibrant serigraphs and accidentally happened upon stop number six of nine on the Silver Lake Art Collective's 11th annual, self-guided Open Studio Tour, a relaxed and intimate event held this past Saturday and Sunday afternoons at artists' homes across Silver Lake.
Crosby ended up leaving with a few of Cheng's prints and a renewed sense of community spirit. "We will enjoy these for many years. Thank you," she said, leaning down to give the diminutive Cheng a hug. This was the first time the two women had met, though Crosby has lived blocks away for 14 years and Cheng has been in Silver Lake since 1948, when she came to the United States from Beijing. One of Cheng's friends, an older man who lives in Koreatown and sported a purple-striped turtleneck, a windbreaker and tan slip-on shoes, sat in a lawn chair overseeing the good cheer. He told me he'd met Cheng at a dance hall at a senior citizen center, and that he hadn't even known she was an artist until very recently.
Founded in 2001, Silver Lake Arts Collective (SLAC) consists mostly of older artists who show their work at outdoor festivals like Beverly Hills' annual Affaire in the Garden. 84-year old Bea Gold specializes in wood-cuts and commissioned portraits, and recently published an illustrated book of stories about growing up in New York in the 1930s and 40s. Julie Bagish, one of the founders of SLAC, is a lively grandmother with orange and pink hair who creates Japanese tea-ware and pottery as well as larger, maritime-themed works of ceramic collage. Her vivid blue, fish-centric tile-work splashes across her front yard, across the floors and up the stairs of her house, along the countertops and stove of her kitchen and throughout her upstairs bathrooms; those of you who missed this opportunity to gape and envy can find an installation of Bagish's Watts Towers-meets-Finding Nemo collage-work at Cliff's Edge on Sunset Blvd.
Down the street from Cheng's home, Fred Chuang showed off some grayscale calligraphic pieces done in spray paint on polymer vacuform packaging material, as well as work from Barbara J. Carter and George Lafayette, artist friends whom Chuang convinced to join SLAC a few years back. Carter, who achieved a PhD in astrophysics before deciding she couldn't abandon her art for the life of full-time scientist, makes gorgeous, abstract pointillist paintings and Impressionistic landscapes, while Lafayette forges visceral, bronze sculptures of otherworldly figures, most of whom seem to be on the verge of pouncing.
Chuang flitted here and there, ever the gracious and attentive host, and warmed the hearts and bellies of his guests with bowls of homemade turkey chili. In addition to sitting on the SLAC Board and throwing this annual, neighborly creative exchange, Chuang often expresses a community-minded or populist spirit in his work. The triptych he showed at the 2009 SLAC exhibit made tribute to the two firefighters who perished in the Station Fire in Angeles National Forest that summer, and this year he contributed two agitprop banners inspired by the Occupy movement.
To see Chuang's battle cry against capitalism, I next went down the hill to the Citibank Art Space on Glendale Blvd. to see the Spectrum 2011 show (running through Nov. 19), which features work from all thirty-five of SLAC's artists. Melvyn Weiner and Peter Bodlaender hovered behind a table in the center of the main room, encouraging the trickle of gallery-goers to sign the guestbook and pick up their favorite artists' business cards. Bodlaender has two sculptures in the exhibit, fluid pieces that are cast in resin and bronze but appear to have been stretched like taffy. Work from Weiner's recent mosaic phase, including some small portraits made of colorful seed beads and a few larger works portraying boxing greats, hangs on a wall to the left, bursting with verve and texture.
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When I first ask Bodlaender whether the two are part of "the collective," he gets confused and asks, "What collective?"
"No, we're in SLAC... More like slackers!" Weiner intones, his puffy grey curls spilling from the crown of his head down to the top of his spine. He is wearing a dark denim shirt with snaps under a light denim jacket with buttons. "No, I'm just kidding," he says, and takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and slowing his speech down to a solemn crawl. "I can't stop with the jokes. I wish I could."
You can see the Silver Lake Art Collective's Spectrum 2001 show at the Citibank Art Space at 2450 Glendale Blvd (Thurs-Sat: Noon-8 p.m.; Sun: Noon-5 p.m.). A closing reception for the show will be held on November 19 from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. and is open to the public.
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