Kat Monroe was on the verge of setting up an art gallery, but a catchy name eluded her.
The Huntington Beach resident only knew that she wanted it to be unique and incorporate her lucky number, seven. Beyond that, she was at a loss.
"I was speaking to my daughter, who was on her way to college, and she said, 'Well, Mom, why don't you add two v's and a space, and it'll be seven letters for seven?'" Monroe recalled. "And so I did it — I ordered all this stuff and got really excited."
But her happiness was short-lived.
"Then, my 14-year-old came to me and said, 'Mom, that's only six letters,'" said the blue-haired 40-year-old, bursting into laughter at the thought of being shown the obvious with Sev Ven.
But the name stuck. It stands out in people's minds, Monroe said.
Established on Slater Avenue in 2012, the gallery recently relocated to another spot on the street.
To Monroe, Sev Ven was established as a "non-drama, ego-free place," where about 30 national and international artists can display their work and feel comfortable, not judged or criticized.
"I remember applying to so many different galleries and hearing, 'No, no, no,'" said the gallery owner, who also does assemblage art. "I wanted to open the door of opportunity to artists. Why can't everybody live their passion? Why is it that only the so-called 'special ones' get to show their art and everyone else can't? And who's to say your art is good enough for people to see, and someone else's is not?"
Embracing diverse opinions and aesthetics, Monroe welcomed work by professionals educated in the craft as well as those without a formal training in art. Although the mix surprises viewers, it works, allowing all the artists to learn from one another.
"I want people to be able to accept art — whether they like it or not — for being art," she said.
Monroe also finds that people who are self-taught and have sometimes been struggling to carve a niche for themselves reflect a purity in their work. Their art is often edgy and replete with raw emotion, she said.
"I feel truly blessed and honored that Kat sees the beauty beyond mainstream art," said Michael Bermudez, currently Sev Ven's featured artist. "She not only creates an eclectic and accepting environment within the walls of Sev Ven, but her ability to nurture and motivate artists that focus on a dark and somewhat surreal palette is nothing short of inspirational."
Dark is right.
The walls of the 1,100-square-foot space are covered with the artists' macabre images of devils and monsters and portraits with skeletal heads. A dismantled doll's body hangs from the ceiling, while the gallery's corners are decked out in Monroe's assemblage art, which combine thrift-shop finds like pig statues, ribbon, shampoo bottle covers, measuring tape and more.
Monroe opened Bermudez up to a couple of firsts — his first show and sale. After seeing the enthusiastic response to his work, the Los Angeles artist diverged from using only pencils, graphite, markers or digital media and began incorporating paint into his pieces.
"I picked up my earnings for the first piece I sold at Sev Ven on the same day that I had been laid off from my last job," said Bermudez, 36, who combines elements of math, music and science in his abstract work. "I felt that there was a sense of balance in the universe redirecting my focus then, and with the support of my wife, I decided that if I was going to pursue art, that the time was now."
Vincent Gabriel's experience was similar.
Sev Ven is not only a safe place for his work, said the Westminster resident, but one that leaves him feeling inspired.
"Once you're in here, you never want to leave again," said Gabriel, who often starts sketching right there. "It's that creative spirit you get from everything in here. It's a little bit abrasive — it's not the normal [experience] you would have in other places."
When he met Monroe in late 2012, Gabriel was making drawings and paintings on small pieces of paper. Now, his style has evolved to include photography, embellishments and even a large mural, which adorns Sev Ven's restroom. He is being invited by others to do similar large-scale work, the 32-year-old said.
Carissa Martin, whose mixed-media figurative work will be spotlighted next, recounted feeling immediately at home with Monroe. She said she gets chills just thinking about the ease with which she fit in, armed with the knowledge that the gallery owner could be counted on not only for timely, honest payments but also respect and care for her work
For the Los Angeleno, drawing has been a release — an outlet for emotions that she might not have known how to handle otherwise.
"Even if you do a random still-life, you are taking time and investing something in it," noted Martin, 32. "You're building a relationship, basically, with a future audience."
Like Monroe, she has dealt with eating disorders and heartbreak, and both women have channeled their feelings into art. Although it's sometimes subconscious, the process helps to convert negativity and pain into something beautiful.
"I was telling Kat, 'I can't take these pieces back home,'" Martin said, chuckling. "'It's like having ex-boyfriends in my house.'"
If You Go
What: Sev Ven
Where: 7522 Slater Ave., Unit 130, Huntington Beach
When: 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, 3 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment on Sundays