BEHIND THE STUDIO DOORS : The Venice Art Walk Offers a Glimpse at Where the Artists Work
IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S HIGHLY CHARGED CREATIVE COMMUNITIES. YET FEW outsiders are able to visit the studios in which some of today’s most exciting art, architecture and films are created. The buildings along Market Street, the nucleus of much of the activity, resemble the nondescript storefronts of an Edward Hopper painting. This intentional camouflage is the essence of the Venice style; Venice lives and creates behind closed doors.
And that is what makes the annual Venice Art Walk such a special event. Next Sunday, more than 40 artists will open their studios to benefit the Venice Family Clinic. Participants will see the living and work spaces of artists such as Peter Alexander, Laddie John Dill, Fred Eversley, Jean Edelstein, Lloyd Hamrol, Martha Alf, Klaus Rinke and Stephanie De Lange. The day begins at Westminster School, 1010 W. Washington Blvd., where tickets--and this year’s Art Walk T-shirt and poster, by Jonathan Borofsky--can be purchased.
Admission ranges from $35 to $200; the $35 ticket provides entree to the studios and use of a shuttle bus plus a 45-minute guided tour. For $75 per participant, leading members of the art community will direct docent tours of studios not on the $35 walking tour, such as those of Don Bachardy and Eric Orr. The $200 option includes all of the above plus admission to “A Night of Comedy,” an event honoring Comic Relief--an organization that raises funds for health care for the homeless.
LADDIE JOHN DILL
In an enormous studio near the ocean, Laddie John Dill creates his quintessentially Californian sculptured paintings. (“Ten years ago I would have minded being called a California artist because it had the wrong connotation,” Dill says. “Now I don’t object at all.”) Sunlight floods the 30-foot high space, a former beer warehouse adapted for Dill’s use by architect Steve Ehrlich, and sea breezes sweep in through massive doors. Four assistants, all trained boat builders, construct the wooden pinwheel-like frame for “GroundSwell,” a monumental sculpture being readied for the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. “This studio is very
integral to the look of my work,” Dill says, “because a few years ago I decided I wanted a way of systematically controlling a geological phenomenon like the
natural one called leaching, where water that has saturated into a surface
(of a painting) mixes with alkalies and minerals and then brings these materials to the surface when it evaporates, causing some of the material to oxidize. So I set up a topographical situation in the studio--for example, water running down a gully or wind pushing sand across a surface--which at times makes the whole studio and the work in progress seem to be one element.”
Life is far from bohemian for Dill, a Malibu-bred surfer and son of a Western actor. “I don’t surf anymore,” he says, “because surfing, like art, is a full-time job.” He wakes at dawn to paint for a few hours in solitude before going over to the West Beach Cafe for what he calls “a sort of do-it-yourself gourmet breakfast” with other artists and creative people who live nearby. Many of them--such as Dennis Hopper, Frank Gehry and Chuck Arnoldi--have a Dill in their collection. At nine, Dill’s secretary and assistants show up, and he begins to take care of the business end of art. “L.A. is perfectly positioned between East and West; some museum people from Tokyo and a dealer from Germany all converged right here the other afternoon,” he says.
Dill, a casual, articulate man in his 40s who drives a restored ’65 Mustang, has lived in Venice on and off since 1969 and moved to his present studio in 1983. “I like the diversity of income and all the different characters here; and if that’s what you like, you have to put up with the garbage and crime,” he says. “The ambiance of Venice is unique because it grew out of itself in a series of non sequiturs, and that has made the area really magical.”
Frederick Eversley designed instrumentation systems for NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs before “retiring” at age 25 to Venice, where he says the creative atmosphere inspired him to try his hand at making art. “Venice has always been such a stimulating place,” says the Brooklyn-born artist. “When I arrived in ’64, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the Beat Movement had just left Venice for San Francisco. Daniel Ellsberg, who was then at Rand Corp., lived in the same building I do, and rock acts such as the Doors, Canned Heat and Taj Mahal were also in the neighborhood. Francis Coppola was around, and Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis were working here.”
Eversley inherited his present studio from the late artist John Altoon, who along with architect Frank Gehry had converted it from a laundromat. “It was once illegal to live here,” Eversley says of the space that now serves as a combination studio, gallery and living quarters, “but in the ‘70s the city council passed a ‘homecrafters’ law making it OK.”
Eversley’s graceful sculptures fill the place with movement, color and light; and visitors can see the two major directions his work has taken from the ‘70s to the present. The earlier works are elegant parabolic lenses made by centrifugal casting, which employs centrifugal force and gravitational accelerations to form their concave surfaces. The artist says he chose the parabola “because my work deals directly with the subject of energy, and the parabola is the ideal physical shape for concentrating and reflecting energy. That’s why it’s used for satellite dishes and radar antennae.” The large, surprisingly heavy lenses of polyester resin range from translucent to opaque and are so flawlessly balanced that they invite the observer to set them rocking. An untitled red lens done in 1982 frames a fisheye view of the studio’s garden.
In the garden stands “Red Spire,” a soaring construction of alternating layers of symmetrically arranged painted steel and clear plastic that represents Eversley’s more recent artistic direction. Currently, he is using the same approach but is experimenting with changing the configuration. “This will yield almost an infinite family of shapes,” he says, “and these types of artwork are very difficult to analyze mechanically in terms of stresses and strains. That’s where being an engineer is useful.”
That his sculptures hold together under stress is vital when they are scaled up to size--like the 20-foot-long piece that hangs from the ceiling at San Francisco International Airport, or the 40-foot one at the Miami airport.
As intriguing as his sculptures are, Eversley observes that it is his kitchen that has attracted the most attention from past Art Walk guests. “For some reason, everyone likes to poke in cabinets and see what artists eat.”
Peter Alexander created the much-discussed black-velvet “underseascape” that runs the length of a wall at Rebecca’s, a trendy Venice restaurant. And although the neon-colored, glitter-sprayed aquatic fantasy reminds viewers of the black-velvet paintings sold in Mexico, Alexander’s work has met with great critical success.
The artist, an intense man with a quick, provocative wit, works in a windowless studio lit only by skylights. Built in the ‘30s to house
public trams, it has since served as a studio for a series of artists. Inside, Alexander takes on an unfashionable, sometimes-cliched subject--the romantic landscape. “All of my work is the pictorial landscape, but with different emotional takes,” he explains, “and the reason these are cliches is that many people are connected with them. But it’s not because they’re cliches that I’m interested in them; it’s more a question of ‘How do you rejuvenate those ideas?’ ” (Among the Alexander landscapes on display will be small-scale sketches of Lake Powell made on location, and the larger canvases that developed from those sketches in the artist’s studio.)
Alexander’s current work is particularly interesting because he is moving from the black velvets to a new series of L.A. “nightscapes.” He finds night in Los Angeles inspiring “because L.A. has structure luminescence from all kinds of lights; and there is the wonderful blackness of the sky, and to me black is euphoric--not evil, not sad.”
Given his natural subjects, what does Alexander find so appealing about Venice, which he first visited in 1967 and where he returned to live three years ago? “I love the bums and the boardwalk, the polyglot here; to me it’s a mix like ambrosia,” he says with a smile.
Jean Edelstein has created a Greek-inspired temple within her Venice studio. Blocky columns made of poplar sanded to a fine luminescence have been painted with larger-than-life female figures--"goddesses” Edelstein calls them--dancing, nurturing babies and playing acrobatically. The feeling is one of exuberance and harmony.
“It was seeing the friezes and murals of Crete from 1500 BC depicting the worship of the snake goddess that really made me want to discover everything I could about that ancient Minoan culture and its art,” she says. “It was a pre-patriarchal society closely tied to the rhythms of nature, where goddesses were celebrated through the sacred art of dance.”
Edelstein, an earthy, energetic woman, and her model, Camille, literally dance as Edelstein creates her art in a “spiritual ritual where I let my unconscious dictate what I put on the canvas,” Edelstein says. She considers herself an “action painter,” rapidly and intuitively applying strokes to the canvas as she moves in sync with the dancing model to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, Philip Glass or David Bowie.
In her newer “Let’s Dance” series, this process results in a sometimes-abstract depiction of body contours in motion. The abstraction comes about, the artist says, “because as the tempo of the music and the movements increase, I paint faster.” A video of this process made by her husband, photographer Sy Edelstein, will be on view to visitors during the Art Walk in the Edelsteins’ studio, which is located in the thick of the Ocean Front Walk scene. “I just don’t like living in an area that’s too tidy-looking and where people are all the same,” Jean says of Venice. “You know where you belong, and this is my place.”