The MAN had been flirting with the woman by the bar for a few minutes before blurting out, “Is that a gorilla mask between your legs?” She stared at him, silent for a moment, then grinned broadly and said: “You know, it really is.”
Normally a question like that would meet with a swift slap to the jowl, but not on Saturday afternoons and evenings at La Cita Bar. Since late June, the Latino dance hall-cum-scruffy artist hideaway in downtown L.A. has joined with the Silver Lake outsider art gallery Ghettogloss to host a figure-drawing class of primitive proportions: The models -- mostly women in bikinis -- wear gorilla masks while they pose. The resulting drawings -- curated by Shana Nys Dambrot, managing editor of the arts guide Flavorpill LA -- will be displayed at Ghettogloss for three weeks beginning Nov. 14.
La Cita is the perfect venue for this admittedly bizarre endeavor. Since being commandeered several years ago by the folks who run the crooked-haircut mainstays the Scene in Glendale and the Short Stop in Echo Park, the bar has had a penchant for latching onto offbeat efforts. Vaunted street artist Shepard Fairey hosts the popular “Dance Right” DJ night there on Thursdays; Friday nights bring the Part Time Punks, who spin the “Punky Reggae” party; and “Mustache Mondays” draw a raucous gay dance crowd.
When La Cita’s owners opened the back patio and were looking for a way to populate it on weekend days, they turned to Ghettogloss owner Fiora Boes. “I knew Fiora would come up with something compelling and unique,” La Cita manager Brian Godfrey says of the event, dubbed “The Bronx Zoo.” “It’s nice to see people producing something and not just chasing each other around drunk.”
Boes and her business partner, Jessica Garrison, agree. “People bring all their supplies, and they’re ready to draw. They arrive at 3, and they don’t leave until the last ape leaves,” says Boes.
On a recent Saturday, about 20 mostly young people sit on La Cita’s back patio, which resembles a tattered circus set from a Fellini film, avidly sketching a slender woman wearing a striped bikini and ‘50s-style black high heels.
As the model languidly leans over a chair, the scratch of charcoal on thick paper keeps time with “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles. A lanky guy in a fedora squirts acrylic paint on a palette; a woman covered in tattoos crumples up a false start; and the model changes poses, sliding down into the chair, head tossed back. Twenty minutes later, she gets up to leave. The crowd applauds.
Later, the model, a 25-year-old designer named Liberty Yablon, appears at the bar, her face flushed bright red. “Did you see me shaking?” she asks. “Holding still is hard. It’s really hot in that mask, and if you’re claustrophobic I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Marina Valentina, one of the artists who drew Yablon, didn’t see her shaking but found it difficult to get into the scene at first. “It was really hard not to laugh, because it looks like the gorilla mask is looking at you.”
That may be because the person in the mask is looking. Another model who goes by the name Fro says, “I get to watch the work in progress, my eyes are always moving. At first I was nervous, but [the artists are] here for the same reason as I am. It’s a form of expression.”
‘The Bronx Zoo’
Where: La Cita Bar, 336 S. Hill St., downtown L.A.
When: 3 to 8 p.m. Saturdays
Price: $5; free hot dogs.
Info: (213) 687-7111, www.myspace.com/lacitabar