In the 2017-2018 timeframe you revisited and added to an existing figure that appears in some of your work. Can you tell us who she is and what she symbolizes?
You must be talking about the girl in the pink dress. The first time I painted her was about seven or eight years ago. My mom had just died and I just couldn’t get myself to paint. I went back to try and work on a piece and I ended up painting these weird circles and started covering older work. Whatever I had been painting was over and gone and there just wasn’t anything coming out. I had this idea to make 12 pieces that were related to the album, “Wish,” by The Cure. This album was on heavy rotation when I got sober (in 1996), and it’s just always felt like home. So I start listening and wondering and finally I start making some stuff. The work was totally different from anything I’d done before. I had this idea to make a painting related to the song, “Open,” that communicates my experience with addiction. I really wanted to try and capture the relationship between the addiction and the addicted, and specifically, was looking to represent where I was at that exact moment in time. I was 16 years sober, had just lost my mom and had this absolute knowing that I didn’t feel like drinking, but that I was really shook…so I’m painting and all of a sudden I’m grabbing a thin brush and outlining this young girl in a pink dress. I’d never painted a human figure and at the time I recall thinking, “what the heck am I doing,” but I went with it. The piece ended up with the girl, a bird, a cage and some flowers…it’s raining and there are hash marks ticking off 16 years worth of days. So who is she and what does she symbolize…she symbolizes a part of me that I keep pretty close to the vest. She absolutely does not just symbolize an addict or an alcoholic. Initially she represented that, but has grown to represent so much more. She’s a fighter. She represents being knocked down but not out…she’s braver than me most all the time and I think I’m trying to follow her lead. I’ll leave it here: I feel the most risk and vulnerability when I put her pieces up.
How has running a gallery changed the way you create art? Has it influenced anything else art related?
Running the gallery has totally changed the way I create work. Right out of the gate, Laura and I put up a show where we forced ourselves out of our comfort zones. Everything we put up was experimental and unlike anything we’d ever done. The show was in alignment with what we were going to demand of ourselves (as curators and event planners) and what we were going to ask of artists we know, and how we would search for new artists to show in the gallery. What happened next was shocking. Having a gallery, knowing that I have access to show, suddenly released me from feeling like I had to show, or be in every show. I’d work on new ideas for themed shows, or sit some out, but for sure it started me on the path of experimenting with different stuff.
Coming up with themes, going through submissions and hanging shows has both satiated and fueled my desire to create. The Addiction show was filled with so many great pieces, and I feel like the final product was a giant collaboration between me and about 45 other artists. That show opened up so much for me as a curator.
The other part of running the gallery that has changed the way I work is that so many of the artists that I’ve gotten to know are influencing my process, my choices, and just generally demanding me to step it up or sit it out. Watching Amber and Davia install their show was a lesson in dedication. The way Dennis Dugan, Scott Meskill and Brent Broza approach their work (and shows) is a lesson in detail and completeness. If you add that to getting to watch work from Emma, Sarah, Laura and Theodosia just pour out with color and freedom…man it gets in your head as an artist. I sort of froze up (creatively) for about six months. Just recently something has shook loose and I’m back in the studio with some fresh ideas. I’m feeling inspired to shift gears and see what happens.
What kinds of things do you see happening at ShockBoxx over the next year? Over the next five years? What is your vision for the Cypress Arts District?
In the short term, Shockboxx has a full calendar. We already have shows mapped out through the middle of 2019. We will continue to put up the themed shows, and if anything, we will be stepping up the pace. We have no plans of slowing down.
We’ve identified a group of a dozen artists that we feel fit the attitude and aesthetic of the gallery. We are in the process of developing a program that will include solo shows and maybe smaller group shows, or shows where a few artists flush out a theme around installations and new works. This is going to get fun, specially since we are in the process of expanding, and will have the added benefit of the music space that is coming in next door. The playbook is about to be blown wide open.
The gallery is on the map and in the minds of the larger Los Angeles art community. We’ve had artists fly in from New York, Chicago, and Europe. Over the course of the next five years, I see this awareness growing. I want to be able to help the artists that have shown up for us and grow their careers and realize success at larger levels.
Regarding the neighborhood, my vision is that all of the businesses and creators that were here long before we showed up are thriving and seeing their businesses grow. A great example of that is what John is doing at Cypress Surf Shop. That location is historic and it is so cool to see the garage door open and the surf movies flowing. There are wood workers, auto detailers, architects, monks, musicians, surfboard shapers and all sorts of “makers” down here. I hope we can contribute to added awareness and foot traffic for the whole area.
If you could offer a few pieces of advice to artists that are just starting out what would you tell them?
I don’t think I have much to offer (creatively) to any artist other than to tell them to get after it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, don’t be afraid to paint over it, cut it up, throw it away, or hang it on a wall. Just get after it and see what happens. My friend Robb Havassy helped me out when he said, “Don’t paint what you saw, paint what you felt.”
If I’m offering advice to a new artist from the perspective of a gallery owner, what I want them to know is that I really like helping new artists. I’ll answer any question I can, and I’ll totally show you how to wire a piece so that it’s ready to hang. The way you represent yourself goes a long way with the person who is hanging and selling your work. We want to help you figure it out.
Last year there was an abstract show at ShockBoxx that was an homage to Ed Moses. Could you share what the inspiration was behind doing a show based on a contemporary artist’s body of work?
I’m a huge fan of Jack White. He’s a great musician and an even better historian. He knows where he’s coming from, and he knows what he’s building upon. He respects his roots. I admire that and have learned from his example.
As a painter painting in Southern California, I got interested in my roots. Those guys from the late fifties and early sixties that populated Ferus Gallery paved the way for the whole scene. I watched the documentaries and interviews, and I read the books. I love the stories of what ragamuffins and rapscallions those guys were and totally wish I could have been around to try and keep up with them. The way they pushed and pestered one another seems to have driven the whole thing.
The first art show that really just blew my mind was one by Ed Moses. I walked into the gallery and just felt like falling to my knees. It was like the whole room was whispering at me, daring me to try something bigger, looser, more experimental. It was humbling and inspiring.
The inspiration for the show was born out of my admiration for Ed and that whole attitude of the Ferus gallery. We had this new gallery, we needed to make some noise to get noticed, and paying homage to THE Man seemed like a good idea. Then I thought, “screw it,” why not just put the guy on notice that we are coming for him. I figured if he found out he’d dig it…like, “Hey Ed…totally respect you but don’t sleep.”
It was scary making work for that show. I almost tapped out at one point, but ultimately was proud of what I came up. That show blew me way out of my comfort zone. Watching the work pour in was fun. My favorite piece in the show was a wooden piece by Chip Herwegh…dude didn’t know the Ferus story, went home, did his homework and stole the show. That’s some Ed Moses shit right there man.
A few years ago one of your abstract paintings was featured on a billboard in Los Angeles. Can you share what that experience was like?
The billboard show was cool. Somebody sent me the call for art and I remember thinking, “nah…I don’t make murals…I don’t have that kind of art,” but then it popped back up on my computer and I just fired up a submission and forgot about it. I was busy working on a community art thing, but really wanting to try my luck in a different pond. The billboard show was the catalyst for moving into different waters for sure.
The actual experience of having work up on a big billboard was huge (pun intended). I went and checked it out a few times for sure. Every once-in-a-while somebody would call, or send a picture of it and ask if it was my work.
The part that helped me out as an artist was that I didn’t just take the billboard and walk away. I reached out to other artists in the show. I called the curator and thanked her, and I also asked her to tell me about her selection process. The show opened doors for me to access other artists, other venues, and mostly, it opened a door for me to get out of the bubble and play in a bigger, scarier pond.