Part immersive art installation and part painting exhibition, Los Angeles-based artist PunkMeTender’s latest project with West Hollywood gallery Art Angels is also a marvelous stage set. The team plans to open to the public over Memorial Day weekend, but for the past few weeks, the artist has been inviting another kind of audience to visit and to use it as they see fit – social media influencers.
“Influencers are messengers, they are part of this world,” the artist tells L.A. Weekly. “What I do is about connection, too.” PunkMeTender’s dramatic palette and lyrical imagery – especially his iconic butterfly motif – lend themselves to dramatic interpretation, and he thinks it’s been working out beautifully.
“It gives more life to the art. I always respect anyone that gives attention to what you do, they make you shine! They spend time using what you’ve created,” says the artist. But at the same time, he is careful to note that this project is not just another Selfie Museum of Whatever. “With what I do, there’s so much more behind it than just a scenario. I’m after real feelings and deeper emotions in the experience.”
Going back to the theme of connectedness, there’s no doubt that the past year has been hard on the gregarious, as it’s been hard for everyone. “You’ve got to fight back even in hard times,” he says. “A year ago I did a show on the exterior of the gallery, a 3-D sculptural mural. It was during a time of curfew and lockdown and I loved seeing the selfies!” He also did a big mural on Cahuenga during the BLM protests last summer; it read Human After All and was about how we hold the line with beauty.
Some of the early pictures to come out of the project’s photo shoots came from Yuliya Urban (@yuliyaurban) with photos taken by the artist, showing off the full array of situations and inspirations on offer in the installation – from psychedelic domestic vignettes to videogame worthy fantasy motorcycles, luminous conceptual props and one unforgettable pink piano.
“They play a game of dress-up, edit, it’s all very professional,” says PunkMeTender about his experience of the visits. “And the beauty is, it’s all different, what each one does with it. I did my best to create a refined experience. The story may in some ways reflect the darker realities of the past year, but as an artist I feel I have a duty to inspire people, to keep doing what I do, to keep it positive, to continue and move forward.”
As influencer Sarah Jones (@sarahjoneslife) tells the Weekly, she sees it much the same way. “I believe it’s genius to make art touchable, and as a visitor be able to interact playfully with it. To experience PMT’s installations on a level of interconnection makes it much more approachable. I am able to feel his work and his intentions behind each piece. I am opening a raw vegan restaurant in a few weeks in Malibu and PMT will provide a piece of his art for my space – because I can relate the power of nature in food with his aliveness in artwork.”
Anne Sage (@citysage) concurs and especially given her career in interior design, is equally inspired by the idea of being able to physically interact with the environment. “You really get it in your body,” she tells the Weekly. “There is no substitute.” She was doing several in-person experiences a week in the Before Times, and is enthusiastic about this idea both as a return to that dynamic and an elevation of it, speaking of a rediscovery of “a certain sense of wonder” and its emotional impact.
“I love my social following,” says Sage, who has been working in the online world for almost 15 years. “I think of myself as a connector — getting to share something special with my audience. For the artist to invite us in like this, in appreciation of what we have to offer and the ways our worlds are merging — it’s really special. I feel seen!” She is keeping her plans for the space improvisational, feeling that spontaneity is the key, and being open to the possibilities in the art. “It’s a reminder that we all look at the same things and see something different,” Sage says. “We all have our unique stories to tell, and they all have value.”
This is all exactly what the artist and the marvelous people of Art Angels had in mind. “Our mission as a gallery is to always offer unique opportunities to experience art,” the gallery’s Sarah Klauber tells the Weekly. “When PunkMeTender came to us with the idea of opening his studio for private tours and personal use, we were so excited to support him in sharing his art, mission and space. He was eager to give back to the creative community – to the photographers, artists and social media influencers – who all lost or could not access studio space during Covid. He dedicated so much time and energy to create new installations both inside and outside of his studio for this event,” she says. “It is a true testament to PunkMeTender’s spirit – bright, colorful and transformative.”
For more information and to organize a visit, go to: artangels.net.