Brendan Lott is an artist. I met him when he was studying film at San Francisco Art Institute, where we were both undergrads at the turn of the millennium; he went on to the prestigious MFA program at Stanford. Brendan Lott is also a businessman. In late 2009, he moved to Los Angeles, where he owns and operates Sherwood Magazines, a newsstand off LaCienega, and, for a few nights a month, the site of Lott-hosted readings and performances. The newsstand allows him to unite his twin desires: to make art, and also make a living.
Out of grad school, Lott took a job at a San Francisco business identity–strategy firm (“I named things,” he says), and there — like any modern businessperson — he became inspired to outsource his artwork to China.
“One of the things about living in America is we don't make anything anymore,” Lott says. “Twenty hours a day, I was a virtual, conceptual, 2007 kind of person, and for two hours a day in my studio, I would glue and saw stuff, working the same way an artist in the 19th century worked. It just made no sense. So I started thinking, 'How can I make art about my own fucked-up time and place?' ”
Lott had become obsessed with images uploaded to file-sharing networks, ostensibly by college students, depicting their lives on the precipice of debauchery and mundanity. He started sending these photos to a company in a Chinese village, which he'd read about in The Economist: There, you can send any photo and, for a fee, receive an oil-painted reproduction.
As Lott explains it, “I get pictures from the Internet — that I didn't take, of people I don't know — send an e-mail to these painters who I just pay and don't know, and the end result is these paintings. It felt more in line with the rest of my life: moving information around rather than actually making something.”
One of Lott's outsourced paintings was included in MoCA's 2009 Fresh Auction, and he then sold another piece, The Alphabetized Bible, to the museum. Soon after, he decided to make the move down south. “It just felt like L.A. was where things were happening for me, and not San Francisco,” Lott says. “And I was sick of the hippies.”
After devoting time and energy to branding other people's businesses, Lott decided he wanted to apply those skills to his own endeavor. With money in the bank from his corporate job, before making the move, Lott wanted to buy an established small business.
“I was looking for something I felt like I understood,” he says. “And this newsstand came along, and it was really cheap — the ATM more than pays for the rent, so it's kind of this rent-free space I get to do whatever I want with.”
That freedom is evident in Lott's newsstand events, which have included readings/performances by author Dennis Cooper; Oxbow front man/competitive fighter Eugene S. Robinson; and writer Jason Flores-Williams, who, at the end of his Sherwood reading, invited the assembled crowd to join him in a human pyramid. As often happens at one of Lott's events, a passerby who was drawn in by the unusual sight of people standing on the street stayed for the reading; the top spot on the pyramid went to this accidental spectator.
In a city with little sidewalk culture to speak of, the Sherwood events take on the quality of a community intervention. But Lott doesn't just want to subvert the local scene — he also wants to serve it. “I've had to turn it into something that reflects its neighborhood. So I have a lot of high-fashion, home-décor things; everything with Tiger and Jesse James. At night, the area is superclubby, so I stay open late, try to have a cool atmosphere, and sell a lot of cigarettes.
“That's what I like about it — it isn't just an art project,” Lott adds. “With an art project, I could do whatever I want. If I just made the newsstand the way I wanted it, no one would ever shop there.”