On a rare rainy morning in the Arts District, neon artist Lili Lakich and her rescue dog, Bongo, and the California section’s Matt Hamilton sat in the light of glowing sculptures — including a neon sign with cursive script reading “We are all Trayvon.” Conversation flickered from the perils of taxpayer-funded art installations to the plight of twentysomethings who can’t identify Lily Tomlin. We later emailed her questions and crunched the conversation into this:
If Eli Broad redirects the cash he’d earmarked for buying the Los Angeles Times to neon, how would you spruce up his new museum?
Anytime I see another work of art, I have the incorrigible habit of thinking it would look better with neon.
Let’s hear your top five list of neon anythings in Los Angeles.
Two of my own works: “Flyaway” at the Van Nuys FlyAway and the “L.A. Angel” at California Plaza. There’s also the neon Buddha, shown slapping his knees in Chinatown, and the Museum of Neon Art, of which I’m the founding director. And my studio is a neon paradise.
Is Las Vegas more or less neon than it used to be?
Las Vegas owes its very existence to neon. By day, it’s a hellhole. At night, it becomes glorious.
Isn’t neon best suited to strip clubs and liquor stores?
Like the aurora borealis, I find colored neon light to be very spiritual. So, if you find your spirituality in strip clubs and liquor stores then, by all means, yes.
So you’re a neon apologist?
I see myself as more of a proselytizer than an apologist. Neon is so beautiful — no apology is needed.
You teach neon classes? Does what people choose to make tell you anything about L.A.?
Lots of people have harbored a hidden passion for neon. My students have included a 70-year-old rabbi, a float designer for the Rose Parade and a flight attendant from Florida who would commute weekly. The work they make is as diverse as they are.
In the late 1980s, you turned down $100,000 for a sculpture. Why pass up the cash?
A Japanese museum wanted to buy my large masterpiece, “Blessed Oblivion.” I wanted it to go to an American museum. And I still got the $100,000 — the museum ended up buying eight smaller works.
With your studio in the Arts District located within a few feet of hot spots like Pie Hole and Wurstkuche, can you give downtownies some dining tips?
Even though many rave about it, I’ve never eaten at In-N-Out Burger, but a few times each week, I eat the In and Out Tuna Roll at Zip Fusion, next door to my studio. Also fantastic: Cerveteca’s mole chicken enchiladas with plantains.
Complete the sentence: Recent changes in the arts district have brought:
A bonanza for developers and bars. But rents have skyrocketed and artists have been forced out.
You live near Highland Park and work in the Arts District. Does it sometimes seem like Amish country with all those beards?
Personally, I’ve never understood why a woman would want to kiss a man with a beard when she could kiss a woman.
Will you be the last working artist in the Arts District?
I sure hope not.
Your ideal mayor?
Steve Lopez would make a great mayor for Los Angeles.