Artists Rise From the Ashes--Again
Some transitions are easier to weather than others.
At midnight and 12:01 tonight, we will get the dependable yearly version of a termination followed by a fresh start. New Year’s Eve followed by New Year’s Day will be recognized and celebrated by most of us in that mutually agreed upon fashion--we’ll eat, we’ll drink, we’ll toast, we’ll go to bed.
It would be nice if all endings and beginnings could be so tidy and predictable, but they aren’t. Most, like so much else in life, tend to be messy and tumultuous, sometimes downright calamitous, as in the two fires in the past two weeks that struck Ventura’s Art City.
Art City I is a collective of artists and sculptors who live, work and show their art in and around the ramshackle buildings that slouch all over the property.
A fire Dec. 16 burned 4,000 square feet of art studios and kitchenettes when, according to fire officials, a pilot light ignited leaking propane. Works of art, as well as the vestiges of several lives, went up in flames. In addition, the collective’s beloved dog, Luna, died in the blaze.
On Monday, another fire. This one, according to fire officials, was started by youths with matches and consumed the back portion of Art City and parts of the neighboring business. The second fire was contained in about half an hour, but not before causing considerably more damage to studios, furniture and works of art.
Art City languishes in industrial Ventura, on Dubbers Street, surrounded by rough-and-tumble auto shops.
The place looks right at home next to Roscoe Auto Salvage--after all, both establishments collect and stockpile materials, which they then find creative ways to reuse, and both felt the effects of Monday’s fire. One difference is that the found objects at one are recycled for business, while at the other, they are recycled for art.
Then there are the fences. Customer-friendly wooden slats separate Roscoe’s from the street; speckled yellow, corrugated plastic--a material associated with So Cal pool parties circa 1958--fronts Art City.
Pull up to the curb and evidence of a fire at either establishment is not immediately apparent. It isn’t until you wander through a Mad Hatter’s garden of stone--raw and sculpted--past the gnarled oak, the olive tree and one of the sculpting sheds that you see it: a large scorched L-shape area that wraps around the back. It is like a jagged wound. Or a piece of paradise lost.
“Sorry you had to see it during the Phoenix stage,” said Paul Lindhard, after the first fire. “But that is where we are at--coming out of the ashes.”
Lindhard and sculptor JoAnne Duby started Art City 12 years ago. “We’re the two old farts here, the thread of continuity,” Lindhard said.
These days, in addition to sculpting, Lindhard travels the world in search of travertine, marble and other beautiful and dramatic hunks of rock. Much of his business comes from sale of the stone.
“I am a rock collector,” he said. “That is what I do. I’ve been sculpting for 30-plus years and I have an extensive client base. But more recently, we have gotten people in here who come in because of the stones we have. The stones speak to people.”
Lindhard and Duby met at Santa Barbara City College, where they both were teachers. They needed affordable space in which to live and create, and leased the Ventura site. Many artists and sculptors have come and gone. Some dropped in and stayed--working, living and showing their art. Others came for a hit of inspiration, then moved on. The need for community was great enough that Art City outgrew its surroundings after five years, and a sister community, Art City II, was created a few blocks away on Peking Street.
At the time of the first fire, Art City I housed nine artists--including Duby, Lindhard, Steve Knauff, M.B. Hanrahan, Lori Blanchard and Robert Eder. The fires were emotionally devastating for everyone; materially, they affected some artists more than others.
“Rob lost all his finished work,” said Lindhard, and some pieces the two had been working on together.
In the first fire, Lindhard lost 50 finished pieces in bronze and stone--"the remnants of a 20-year career,” he said.
In the second fire, Knauff lost works accumulated over 22 years, including videotapes, newspaper clippings, bronze castings and notebooks.
Lindhard’s entire studio went up in flames.
How does an artist contend with such a loss?
“Well, it was a shock for all of us,” Lindhard said after fire No. 1. “But then you look around and realize that what you have been given is an opportunity. In this ever populated world, space is at such a premium. I could never have imagined being given the space to have a brand new beginning. Now I have one.”
It was hard to imagine that such resolve could withstand another disaster. But one day after the second fire, Lindhard, Duby and Blanchard were back on the battle lines, trying to salvage what they could.
Blanchard sidled up and pointed out that by turning your back to the scorched area, you could imagine that a fire--or a couple of them-- had never taken place. “Look,” she said pointing to the sculpting area and the stone garden, “the heart of the place survived.”
Then, a haggard and wild-haired Lindhard, for the second time in two weeks, strode out of the ashes. “Didn’t we already talk?” he asked.
Indeed, but that was another fire ago.
“Well, ditto, ditto, ditto!” he said, with surprising ferocity. “I still mean all the stuff I said last time, even if I can’t sound as upbeat as I did before.”
Staff writer Wendy Miller can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
* OUT AND ABOUT: Celebrate the new year in a natural way with a three-mile hike through Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park. B7