Talk about a crazy idea. On this mother of all art weekends in LA, with multiple art fairs and a frenzy of Pacific Standard Time bashes, the good folks at Steve Turner Contemporary added to the fray with a terrific idea — a stylish pre-printed and/or downloadable artist map detailing the names and addresses of 24 contemporary artists who had agreed to keep their studios open to all visitors on Saturday and Sunday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m.
Spread as they were all across town, from Northridge to Santa Monica, attempting to see them all — door prizes and bragging rights notwithstanding — presented something of a challenge, even on a normal weekend. I instead took it as a kind of dare — an especially bizarre choice considering that I no longer drive a car. But I do live downtown, where there was a high concentration of studios in “walking distance,” so I decided to go for it, taking a winding way to Art Platform, one of the many art fairs in town last weekend. I made it to six, which I think is pretty good.
Heading east on 5th Street from Main to San Pedro for the first stop at the studio of Jane Lee was pretty mellow. Sunday afternoons in that part of town see a lot of open-air markets, sidewalk cookouts and colorful neighborhood chill. I have friends in the same building, and knew what to expect. The path up to Jane's studio was marked with a trail of colorful tape that led the way to her space, where she showed large mixed media paintings of saturated, almost psychedelic colors in complex abstract patterns, heralded by a hallway installation of smaller pieces.
So I left there feeling spry and optimistic about the day ahead, and set out for the second stop, reached after a nice long walk down 5th to Central and across to 7th, then down past Alameda to Mateo — a sort of Camus-like stretch of hot tar, murals, and sparsely-populated, untidy blocks. When I got down to Mateo, just before finding the studio entrance, I discovered two important things. First, the location of the mythical Pizzanista restaurant; and second, this amazing building of semi-classical industrial style, festooned with murals by some of the most prolific and beloved street artists in town, which truly was its own reward for the journey.
Just there was the studio of the video installation artist William Kaminski, who showed an impressive work called Sink to Hell, which combined video, sculpture and a vague sense of violence to great effect. Around behind a plain wood wall was a stacked installation of monitors showing several video works simultaneously, and increasing the sense of adventure and discovery that was mounting.
Sharing the front room were haunting, Victorian-esque photographs by Noah Doely, who had recently shown at Steve Turner Contemporary in his annual “Wet Paint” exhibition of young talents; and a large-scale sculptural contraption by Yaron Michael Hakim, which used gestural, almost ceremonial symbols and care-worn industrial materials, and was really shown to advantage in the semi-raw space, brick and cement place it occupied.
The third stop was going to be a little trickier. It was getting hot, and LA Mart, where Art Platform was taking place, seemed so far away… So instead of walking the third leg, I hopped a bus down Central to Washington, where two artists awaited me in a building on the corner of those quite lively thoroughfares, past the body shop, behind the cops waiting for bacon-wrapped street-cart dogs, and a crowd of beery onlookers who seemed even more curious about my presence than my friends out front of the Greyhound Station on 7th.
At the top of this daunting flight or two of stairs, I found the delightful Aussie ex-pat Jemima Wyman, who was using the days in the space to get some prep work done, and kept at it slow and steady on a weaving project as we visited. She works in both textile and paint, sometimes together but not always. There was an impressive salon-style wall of smaller pieces, mostly varieties of mixed media collage, much of which featured her trademark deconstruction of mass-produced clothing which is then reassembled into hand-stitched, intensely patterned abstract compositions.
Her paintings, which she makes using a brushless technique involving a turkey-baster and dispersing pigment not unlike a pastry chef, are not nearly as abstract as the textile works. But the way in which she constructs her images resembles a kind of weaving or stitching, almost a mosaic made of paint, that in its comfort with pattern and the occasional inclusion of collaged printed fabric absolutely resembled the sensibility of her stitched pieces. Her charming workshop and sunny disposition were an oasis of civilization after my urban travels. So I stayed a while and learned more about her very original techniques and recent “permanent” relocation to L.A.
Down the corridor I found the equally charming Alida Cervantes. Realizing I had seen a small number of her paintings recently at the gallery, I recognized right away that she had been working hard and getting even better — and she was already really good. Her unique twist on post-colonial genre painting created these visceral, folksy scenes of nobility in sexual disgrace which were funny, satirical, smart, and a little tragic all at once. She had just three, but they were large, captivating, and memorable in the otherwise bare, sun-drenched atelier.
Before I left, she was kind enough to show me on her laptop a few samples of her, um, other project. Which is to say, her alter ego — a Latin-lover, mustachioed salsa singer named El Puro, with a pretty serious discography and some genius music videos. [If you're reading this at work, you'll want to put your headphones on before you head to that link to her YouTube channel.] Thus refreshed and feeling the hip-swaying Latin rhythm, I set out once again on foot, West on Washington Blvd. to Broadway, where I was to finally make it to Art Platform. Which was terrific by the way, and I'll have more on that — plus the rest of the weekend's mostly-downtown shenanigans — tomorrow. In the meantime, don't forget to walk around the block sometimes, it's hard on the soles, but good for your souls.