The Light & Dark Sides of L.A.’s Alternative Art Scene
With the majority of our travel plans on hold until later this year, lately I’ve been busying myself with digging deeper into my own backyard, my L.A. Recently, I had the chance to explore two very different art scenes in L.A., and each evoked different feelings and moods. In this post, I’m sharing the light and dark sides of L.A.’s alternative art scene.
The Light Side
It’s been years since I first read a blog post about The Mosaic Tile House in Venice, but I never got around to planning a visit until recently. I’d always been curious to see this quirky house covered in mosaics, so Jave and I decided to spend our weekly date night exploring the grounds. Fortunately, one of the owners, Cheri, confirmed that it would be okay for us to visit the same day that I contacted her. Not wanting to miss our scheduled time, Jave and I arrived about a half hour early and waited out front in our car, thinking that Cheri hadn’t yet arrived to let us in. So when we went to the front gate at our scheduled time, we were surprised when, Gonzalo, the home’s other owner, came outside to greet us.
Since our same-day decision to visit the house was sort of spur-of-the-moment, I didn’t really take the time to research the house or its owners prior to our visit, and I’m glad I didn’t because as Gonzalo showed us around the grounds, I used it as a chance to ask him lots of impromptu questions about the house and his craft. Seeing The Mosaic Tile House in pictures is one thing, but actually walking the grounds is a visual overload in the best possible way.
“What do the neighbors think about this place?” I asked Gonzalo.
“Oh, they’ve embraced it,” he replied. Gonzalo shared that a mosaic tiling project in the couple’s bathroom quickly evolved into an obsession that inspired them to cover every square inch of the house in mosaics made from smooth shards of glass, plates and utensils, and even bottles that have been melted down. Neighbors even bring the couple their broken dishes and tchotchkes for inclusion in their never ending project.
As we explored the grounds, Gonzalo shared tidbits of his artistic thought process, and I couldn’t help but feel bemused by his artistic genius and fanciful imagination.
“Do you have kids?” I asked as Gonzalo led us under the house’s front archway that features an elephant and other animals that have somehow been melded and meshed into the architecture. “Because I’m sure kids would love this place,” I prodded.
“No, no kids,” Gonzalo replied as he led us inside the home’s entry which leads into the kitchen.
It wasn’t until I saw bunches of bananas, a bottle of dish soap, and everyday kitchen appliances that it dawned on me that Gonzalo and Cheri actually live in this house. All along, I was under the impression that they were going to meet us there, give us a tour, and then go back to their “real life” house. But as soon as I realized that The Mosaic Tile House is their home, the house’s cool factor upped the ante. Suddenly, I stopped looking at the home as a big art project and instead started seeing it in a more personified light.
Eventually, we made our way to the back of the house to Cheri’s studio, where we got to meet and converse at length with Gonzalo’s other half. Whereas Gonzalo seems quiet and introspective, Cheri is bubbly and personable. I was shocked when she revealed that she’s in her 70s! Time has been good to her. Time has been good to them both.
I told Cheri that I’ve always dreamed of having an art studio or some sort of craft room in my home, and Cheri encouraged Jave to be supportive of that dream (not that he isn’t).
“Be sure that when you guys buy your home, she has a space for her art,” she told Jave after I told her that I love to paint (not that I’m great at it) because I find it therapeutic. When I paint, nothing apart from the painting matters – all of life’s worries and concerns dissipate. I wonder if that’s the freedom that Cheri and Gonzalo get to experience on a daily basis through their art.
We spent a good amount of time chatting with Cheri and Gonzalo, picking their brains about their craft, and admiring their love – their obvious love for each other, and of course, their love for their work. They say love is in the details, and Cheri and Gonzalo have literally filled every nook and cranny of their home with love.
Plan Your Visit
- Contact Cheri & Gonzalo through their website to schedule an appointment
- Cost: $12/person
The Dark Side
My friends and I recently checked out the biannual Brewery Artwalk at the Brewery Arts Complex not too far from downtown. Until I discovered this event, I’d never even heard about the Brewery Arts Complex which features industrial-style lofts where many of L.A.’s artists live and/or work.
So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we met up and spent a few hours exploring the workspaces of over 100 of the participating resident artists during the artwalk event which essentially gives the public the chance to not only see how the artists live and work, but to speak to the artists and purchase pieces directly from their studios.
Artists of all genres call the complex home, and we checked out the studios of fashion and jewelry designers, tapestry artists, potters, painters, sculptors, photographers, and the like.
I really enjoyed the large, light-filled studios that are somewhat detached from the larger main buildings. In the larger buildings, my friends and I couldn’t help but feel an eerie vibe as we walked through the dimly-lit hallways in the dorm-like warehouses where each artist has his own studio-loft space.
We tried to imagine what life would be like in this space, riding up and down the huge industrial elevators, doing our laundry in the shadowy laundry rooms, and having eccentric neighbors who keep tabs or share their stream-of-consciousness thoughts in chalk on their doors. One artist, whose studio-home wasn’t open for the event, had an enormous bouquet of dead, wine-red colored roses posted adjacent to his door. While one of my friends thought the dead bouquet was beautiful, the rest of us thought it was rather somber to say the least.
As I imagined the artists who live behind these doors, at that moment, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Girl, Interrupted, and I reminded myself that eccentricity doesn’t equate to craziness:
“Crazy isn’t being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you, or me, amplified. If you ever told a lie, and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child, forever.” – Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
“They should have a reality show about the artists living here,” one of my friends suggested as we made our way down the hallway, popping in and out of studio-lofts at leisure. “Because you know there has to be some neighborly drama.” I couldn’t help but agree that I’d definitely tune in for a reality show like that.
One artist’s studio, in particular stood out. In it, he featured a visual installation of a man slowly washing his hands, and as the visual continued, blood appeared on the man’s hands, giving the appearance that he was washing blood off of his hands. Interesting. This artist’s studio also featured a towering statue that appeared to be made of paper. It seemed that the statue’s humanlike eyes followed me wherever I moved. I thought about how startled I’d feel to wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and cross paths with that towering statue in my living room.
Although the atmosphere of some of the warehouse buildings and some of the art on display in the artists’ studios are somewhat grim, overall, I can honestly say that the Brewery Arts Complex is one of the most interesting places I’ve visited in L.A., and it’s definitely one of the most intriguing places to experience the city’s alternative art scene, even if only twice a year.
*This video portrays a brighter picture of what life is like at The Brewery Arts Complex
Plan Your Visit
- Sign up for the Brewery’s email list to stay in the loop on future Brewery Artwalk events
- During the event, food is available for purchase from food trucks, at the onsite beer garden, or at the onsite restaurant, Barbara’s At the Brewery
- Cost: Free