It's been years since Dabs Myla have worked on art individually. Whether it's a painting or a mural, they sign as a single unit; no last name, no ampersand. They're just Dabs Myla and, on the September day we meet, the husband-and-wife duo are more than a month into turning a historic building on the grounds of a Vernon factory into a house-like installation that documents their life together.
Dabs is 37 and male, with close-cropped dark hair and tattooed arms. He's wearing long shorts and a Jello Biafra T-shirt. Myla is two years younger and appears as bright as this late summer day, her hair of a mix of pink and light brown and her dress neon orange.
Everyone on site appears to know Dabs Myla. Inside the building that will become their “art house,” a crew scrapes layers of glue off the wood floors and workers labor over custom pieces of furniture.
Dabs Myla have spent much of their time here painting. The walls are covered in images of ducks and birds and flowers, old books are adorned in newly painted spines and characters pop up from large white pots. There's work to be done if they want to finish the installation by its opening October 17.
Both artists grew up in Melbourne, Australia. They met in art school, spending seven hours a day in a room with a handful of other students.
“We didn't sit at the same table. We sat at different tables and we would just yell out at each other every day,” Myla says.
“And we would annoy people,” Dabs adds.
Eventually, their friendship led to a date. That date a decade ago resulted in their first joint painting. Two years into their relationship, they vacationed in the U.S. On the return trip home, their flight was delayed. Stuck on the tarmac with a couple of hours to kill, they held a meeting and made a major decision.
“No more work on our own,” Dabs says. “We're just going to become one thing.”
Their artwork is filled with nods to the mid–20th century, whether it's the repeated image of an anthropomorphic hot dog in their 2014 piece Pink Canyon, the Lucky Strikes–like box of cigarettes and the retro clothing in Orange Blossom (2014), or the appearance of a Jell-O mold meal in Something Like Indian Summer (2014).
It's no use trying to discern who did what. Their styles have melded into one as time has passed.
Since their move to Los Angeles in 2009, their career has flourished and they have painted walls from Hollywood to Tahiti. This year, they created the sets for the MTV Movie Awards, where an oversized cat grins and an anthropomorphic tub of popcorn poses between buildings. Last November, they began work on a new series of paintings.
Meanwhile, Modernica, the furniture company that specializes in mid–20th century modern-inspired pieces, approached the duo to collaborate on a line of chairs. When Dabs Myla toured the company's campus in the heavily industrialized city of Vernon, they were struck by a rambling historic structure in the middle of the company's sprawling facility.
They had finally stumbled upon a home for the exhibition they had been creating. “It was so rundown, but it was so perfect,” Myla says.
“All of a sudden, them approaching us to do a chair collaboration turned into this massive,” Dabs starts.
“A house,” Myla finishes.
“And so many other custom pieces to go inside that house,” Dabs adds.
The two-story building stands on its own within a larger a five-acre campus built in 1927 to house a steelworks company. The lone structure was designed by E.L. Bruner, one of the architects who worked on the Helms Bakery in Culver City. Myla mentions the fireproof safes in the floors, where designs were stored, as being something like a “humungous hard drive.”
It's lived many lives over the decades — at one point, the building contained a porn studio — but, since 2011, it has been a small part of Modernica's headquarters, used mostly for storage. Dabs says he felt the space's “good vibes” immediately.
“This place is amazing,” he says. “We could see everything that we wanted to do with it straightaway, even though there were piles of chairs and old things everywhere.”
The couple's voices overlap as they excitedly explain how their show will work. Dabs says that, ordinarily, when their works are shown in a gallery they want people to feel as if they're “walking inside one of the paintings.”
They're achieving this effect on a much larger scale with “Beyond & Forward.” The challenge, he says, has been to keep the project from looking “too house-y.”
Myla adds, “We didn't want it to be like, there's a bedroom, a kitchen and a dining room.”
So engrossed are they in the project that they mention working on it during their rapidly approaching fifth wedding anniversary mid-September.
“It's not the least-romantic anniversary that we've had,” says Dabs, as the couple recalls the year they celebrated by painting a mural in Detroit.
“It was kind of humid and cold at the same time,” Myla says, “and we had dinner at Whole Foods.”
Later, L.A. Weekly checks back, and learns that the couple did indeed work on the project for their recent wedding anniversary, then continued working through the fatigue that set in after weeks on the job, amidst intense heat waves. Late in the process, the couple decided to put in even more hours.
“We were waking up at four in the morning thinking about it anyhow,” Dabs says by phone, “so we might as well go down there and get in there much earlier too, and staying later as well.”
Now, the building's exterior is covered in bright Dabs Myla paintings against brilliant turquoise. And inside, visitors will find numerous references to their lives together, including paintings of houses that they've spotted in Los Angeles.
“We love architecture and we love houses, so everywhere we go, we take pictures of houses,” Dabs explains. Myla adds that the nods to Los Angeles are a key component in the project.
“L.A. is a really important part of our relationship because we've been living here,” she says. Dabs finishes the revelation, “Longer than we were together in Melbourne. I never really thought about that.”
A lounge area has been arranged so that guests can listen to the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds on a record player—Dabs turned Myla on to the album before they started dating. Furniture, that came from a collaboration with Modernica, including a room divider and bar covered in Dabs Myla imagery, are scattered throughout.
Almost everything in the building will be for sale during the show.
Only one area will be off-limits, a replica of an art studio. Guests will only be able to view it if they find the peepholes to this locked room. Paintings hang inside that Dabs Myla created at their home studio and at Modernica HQ. They've taped their notes from the project to the wall. Other odds and ends, like cans of spray paint and books, are from their own studio.
It is an intensely personal show, and that's part of the point.
“So many people ask us how it works for two people to be working together all the time, to work on everything we do,” Myla says. “For us, it was a way to document that.”