Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Matthew Heller - Grand Theft Autocorrect

Sometimes a lot of fun things happen in Venice at once, and sometimes that means you have to attend an art opening still completely covered in glitter from participating in the Mardi Gras Parade down the Boardwalk earlier in the day. Which is fine, because the art opening was also in Venice, and the people understand.

The show opening was Matthew Heller's Grand Theft Autocorrect at the great gallery space that doesn't seem to have a name on Main and San Juan. Heller is a friend's cousin and another friend's favorite artist, so I was there, glitter be damned.

I've always been very attracted to art with words in it (what is that called, anyway?), so Heller's new work did not disappoint. In fact, it was almost all words, made even better by having many of the pieces filled with lyrics from favorite songs like John Denver's "Annie's Song" or David Bowie's "Life On Mars" (done before he died, so not on the bandwagon).

Some of the works are made from what looks like masking tape spelling out words ...

Some pieces feel like you're snooping on someone's love letter writing, someone that's really, really good at inducing swoons through words ... Poems as visual art. Poems that kind of remind of Kerouac at times, high praise for me, indeed.

There were a lot of cool people at the opening, made cooler by the fact that no one blinked an eye at the  Glitterbomb talking to them, in fact, some wondered where they could get some for themselves. Right on.

Heller's work contains a whole lot of emotion in pretty minimalist pieces, which I think is the mark of a really good and effective contemporary artist. Simplicity that packs a wallop.

In chatting with Heller, I found that he couldn't be nicer or more open to talking about his work, another refreshing element in his artistic profile, especially with so many artists going up their own ass once anointed as chosen by the Art World. Not Heller. Warm, approachable, smart, and very clearly talented.

I think my favorite piece was this one that felt exactly just right to be shown in Venice:

Demand optimism! I love it.

Matthew Heller's Grand Theft Autocorrect is on view now through February 28 at 201 San Juan.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cosmic Future! Venice Celebrates Mardi Gras

"If your house doesn't have glitter all over, you didn't have as fun a weekend as we did!" - So read this morning's Facebook status of Miss Jessica Sugar Long, founder of the Venice Mardi Gras Parade and celebration, and boy, was she right. I have glitter everywhere still (including my scalp where it refuses to wash out), having been "anointed" by the King of Venice Mardi Gras, Matt Tyler, and his Queen, Anna Metcalf. Anointed meant closing your eyes and having King Matt pour glitter all over your face and body. It looks awesome ... Still. 

Saturday could not have been more gorgeous out, the absolutely perfect day to march down the Boardwalk, tooting our own horns. Blue skies and mid-80's were the reward for the Venice masses gathered to display their sense of fun, artistry, and true spirit of Venice - via New Orleans. It was the first time (in its 15 years!) I've been able to take part in it all, and believe me, Venice, you don't want to miss it next year. So, so fun. So, so glittery!

The Krewes gathered on Rose and Ocean Front Walk, with the brass band and drum line falling in behind the Venice sign and the King and Queen leading the parade down the Boardwalk to the delight of surprised tourists and seasoned locals alike.

The Windward Krewe was well represented by costumed Venetians that are all a total blast, and the Kinney Krewe was right there with them. Costumes were anything goes, from a David Bowie Starman tribute (on Miss Jessica, my favorite ensemble), to a two-headed monster to the traditional purple, green and gold of Mardi Gras regalia. No matter what you came up with, it was fun, as it always is to dress up crazy.

My favorite moment of the whole day was when a little boy (black) walked right up to a little girl (white) and placed a bunch of strands of Mardi Gras beads around her neck while she stood patiently, and then hugged him. Now THAT is what it's all about. It was beautiful and amongst all the mayhem and madness, I was profoundly moved by such a simple moment. So much so that I missed it with my camera, but this is them. Love.

The only sign of El Niño raining on our parade was this guy - El Niño, apparently on a sunny vacation in Venice. Hilarious.

Gonzo Rock was there with his traveling drum machine, so anyone could walk on up and join in the banging as our joyous cacophony made its way down the very edge of Venice.

Music and shouts rang out to let one and all know that our Venice is HERE, our Venice is PROUD, and our Venice is super extra fun. All of which is contagious, once you join in and get it. What we're about, and always have been. Artistic expression and FUN.

The group wound up in the Windward Plaza, dancing and blowing horns, singing and sharing hugs, people watching and picture taking ... in a word, CELEBRATING.

The band led everyone into Danny's Deli, where Venice Paparazzi had set up a photo booth with all the fun Mardi Gras accoutrements to deck yourself out in, while listening to the N'awlins sounds of The Gumbo Brothers. Miss Jessica took over the mic at one point and delivered a Bowie medley that all sang along to, lustily and with great appreciation.

Danny's was real crazy and crowded, so we took a little break in the dark confines of The Townhouse (where Fish invented the Mardi Grapefruit - yum!), where soon we were joined by other Mardi Gras revelers with the same idea. Captain Todd Van Hoffman made a speech about how the spirit of Venice was clearly still very much alive ... and very sparkly.

It was almost a call to arms speech, urging all that were there and participating in the fun to carry this feeling of community and something special around with us all over town, and to defend it with our voices and actions, however we can. It's crucial. (He also called me his "favorite Pinko", which I loved). Every word of it was true, and important. And reassuring too, as we realize that when we all come together, it's as if nothing in Venice has really changed at all. Phew!


What a great day for Venice it was, as we let the good times roll on down the Boardwalk, and into our hearts and memories forever ... Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fresh Air, Fresh Car

The weather has been almost painfully gorgeous (during the day - night still freezing) lately here in Venice, and all you want to do is be outside. Every chance you get. The blue skies and smooth waves of our urban outdoors is wonderful, but sometimes you want to REALLY get outside, like off the grid outside. It was with that in mind that we began watching the wonderful Ken Burns series The National Parks - America's Best Idea last night, gasping with every frame at the stupendous beauty of our nation's wilderness.

So, I get up kind of early this morning and head down to the beach to take in all our local beauty, still thinking about the documentary of the night before, when I see this fresh car parked on Windward. With a Yosemite-looking mural right there all across its hood. How great is that? This person must really dig the great outdoors, and therefore, I dig them.

I took it as a sign (as I do) to get way out there, as often as I can. But while I'm here in town, I can just check out this car and be transported ... right into another glorious weekend.

Enjoy it out there!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fiore Designs - Your Local Venice Flower Purveyor

"If someone loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows, in all the millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars ..." That has always been one of my favorite quotes from The Little Prince, and one that I think of each time I go to Fiore Designs, often to get a single blossom to love. There's something so nice about having a beautiful flower in a bud vase to look at whenever you need some beauty in your life. Which is pretty much always.

Fiore Designs is a Venice flower shop, founded and operated by Venice ladies, Jennifer Juhos and Nicole Renna. We've all been friends for ages, so it makes me so happy to see them realizing their dreams, right here in our own neighborhood - and beyond.

Juhos is an L.A. girl, born and raised, and as it's warm here most all year round (besides this week!), she was always surrounded by flowers. She loved flowers. She worked at flower shops, learning how to make gorgeous arrangements under their designers, and after graduating from USC, she started her own flower business out of her Dad's garage. The business grew fast, and soon Juhos had her Fiore Designs own real store in Studio City.

After 12 years of beautifying Studio City, Juhos met her husband, Colin (not him pictured above. That's my brother, Paul, cutting up), who lived in Venice. Which meant that she soon lived in Venice, and opened the new Fiore shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in 2010 (before it got as nuts as it is now). That darling little cottage was almost directly across the street from me, so I'd pop in there often, both to see my friends and to get myself a flower, or a party stopping bouquet to bring to a shindig. It was a great addition to the block, and friend-owned!

As Fiore became a full-scale operation, growing well beyond just bouquets, and on up into corporate events, creating large scale environments for events like conventions, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, building sets for photo shoots, productions, storefronts, company gifting, and all the things in life that need flowers and greenery and lovely decor ... Juhos soon realized she needed someone to help her visions come to life. Maybe someone with a background in big productions. Maybe someone that already loved accompanying her downtown to the Flower Mart whenever she was in town. Maybe dear friend Renna, who was in the midst of changing careers and coasts - from film production in New York, to she didn't know what in Venice, just that it had to be Venice again. The timing was perfect for her to make the leap and join her friend as her partner in Fiore. And all this happened shortly after she told another friend how, "I just want to have like a flower shop in Venice or something." Bam. Stars aligned.

Soon thereafter, they expanded to the Pacific Palisades, which really brought both the ladies, and the business together. The Palisades location was relatively short-lived, as let's face it, it's not Venice, and they grew tired of running all over town to be everywhere at once, and got bought out to focus on all the events and the Venice shop. The Venice shop that would soon move to it's new, current location on Pacific Avenue and Brooks.

Abbot Kinney was going crazy (as we all know), and as locals don't even really go there anymore if we can help it (besides to the token few favorites remaining), the writing was on the wall, and the Fiore gals decided to cut out early and build their home base over on Pacific, even closer to the beach that they both love. Sharing the adorable block with the surf shop, General Admission, Fiore Designs opened in the new location last December, with an extra-fun mulled wine and champagne party that was so fun we almost forgot we were in a place of business ... except for all the exquisite floral arrangements that we partied amongst.

The new space has more of a Brooklyn or European vibe, with its exposed brick walls and high ceilings. The shelves are lined with wonderful gifts (including books, bath, candles, CHOCOLATE...) that Juhos and Renna curated from gift shows in Paris and London, gaining inspiration all along their trips from store windows to street signs. They carry products that they made sure were not available anywhere else in the United States, so that Fiore can be a truly unique destination (even online).

"Venice is our home. We want Fiore to grow here," explained Juhos, adding that they hear customers come in all day long from their office loft above the shop, all saying, "It's so nice to be in a real flower shop, right around the corner!" It feels cozy. It feels neighborhoody. It's right up the street from the beach, so you can smell the salty air and feel the sunshine as you walk home carrying your bundle of floral joy, and probably wave at a friend that you pass by. Because this place is part of a community, that as far as Juhos and Renna are concerned, still very much exists.

"When you go out to parties, restaurants, coffee shops, you still see people you know everywhere you go. People support each other and their businesses here, and no matter what, it's still an AMAZING community," Renna insisted, truthfully. Juhos added, "L.A. is so big, but this is still the one place left that still feels like a neighborhood." She explained that she and her husband's favorite thing to do on a day off is just get on their bikes and see where the day takes you ... the bike path, mimosas, bump into a friend, stop by their place, grab people for food, bike to the sunset ... those kind of perfect Venice days where anything can happen. I knew exactly what she meant (mainly because we've all been together on those kinds of days!).

The local businesses they support by patronizing, support them back by ordering flowers. Tasting Kitchen, Hourglass, James Beach ... all places they love, loving them back. That's how Community works. When we talked about longtime, beloved businesses and friends getting priced out of Venice, we all agreed that it's sad and wrong, but you can't give up on Venice. "What I love is the essence of Venice. It's not just one place ... my backyard is one of my favorite places, because you can feel that essence just in the air," Juhos told me. And she's right. You can also feel the love in the air, as the attention to detail and sheer beauty of the things they create can only be done with love. Just in time for Valentine's Day (for which the ladies are more than happy to assist you sometimes clueless gentlemen!)

You for sure get that Venice essence - and love - within the almost Boardwalk-adjacent Fiore at No. 907 Pacific ... where Renna invited everyone to "Come in! Visit! Feel the vibes! Smell the flowers! You are WELCOME."  Juhos added, "We put a little Venice pixie dust in everything we do." And you can feel it.

Fiore Designs
No. 907 Pacific Ave.
Instagram: @Fioredesigns

*PS - When telling the ladies about my series of stories about taking cool classes in Venice, they said they can do flower arranging classes/workshops for groups (like you and your friend's birthday party), with wine, and cheese, and flowers, and skills. Yes! Contact Fiore to arrange.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Learn Ceramics At The Temple Of Mediclaytion

As I've set out to tell stories about awesome classes you can take in Venice, I realized that it's more than  all of us learning new things ... it's also about keeping these teachers and artists in Venice by paying them for classes as they face ridiculous rising rents and the threat of a homogenized Venice. Then it creates even MORE artists and people that know how to do cool things, and Venice remains cool. Everybody wins. So today let's talk about ceramics and how you can learn to throw down at the Temple Of Mediclaytion with your teacher, Patrick Johnston. 

Johnston grew up in Newport Beach, and at the age of 6 in Kindergarten, he had a lightning flash after asking for all the scraps from the old clay hand project that kids do. At recess that day, he realize that ceramics was going to be his thing. He would beg, borrow, and steal to be able to keep working with clay, fighting to do it because his parents didn't see a big future in it for him. When you have to fight to do something, you tend to do it as much as you can, and Johnston would bury himself in a clay studio for 18 hours a day if he could, especially once he was exposed to the wheel at the age of 11.

College took Johnston 14 years to complete, with the first 11 bouncing around to different schools, skipping classes to be in the studio and surf (he definitely comes off more as more of a burly surfer than sensitive clay Zen master, which makes it all the more a testimonial to the calming effect the art has on someone). Once he realized that he should be majoring in ceramics, he got into the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, and it was all straight A's, graduating top of his class from there.

After a stint teaching and running the clay studio at Santa Barbara City College (where he could also surf), Johnston came to Venice kind of by accident. He came down to take care of his ailing father, and a friend offered him studio space in Venice, where he built up an entire community of avid clay artists before settling into the current space for the Temple Of Mediclaytion on 4th Street in the Art Block District in February of last year.

"It's therapeutic to throw clay," explains Johnston. "You're touching a grounding material of Earth ... you have to be in the moment, or it will break. There are four stages, with so much that can go wrong, and disaster around every corner, so you learn to be unattached. When you look at the throw lines, you can see where exactly someone's thoughts dropped off. You have to be super focused and present, or it will come back to haunt you ... You have to train your thoughts to not bring in your own b.s. with you, and leave it at the door." Hence - The Temple Of Mediclaytion. Complete with its own altar, featuring both Zen totems and Dirty Harry.

Johnston's girlfriend, Sam Savoia, runs the business side of things, and got the classes going, with Johnston gratefully acknowledging, "If it was up to me, I'd just buy all surfboards. If she dumped me, the walls of this place would fall in." (It's always refreshing when a man gives the props to his woman that she deserves, which Savoia clearly does, because classes are super popular and the kilns are being kept lit, whatever else might be going on around Venice.)

Classes are offered Monday through Thursday evenings, with your group meeting once a week for six weeks. You'll sit and make something pretty, created with your own hands (after wheel/making something, drying, firing, glazing, decorating, and cooling), sure, but you'll also experience a welcoming community of loving and fun people on your same page.

You'll sit and work surrounded by all the works in progress, and walls adorned by fellow Venice students/artists like Priscilla Witte, Diana Garcia, and Isabelle Alfred Lago.

One of Johnston's students/"Family members", Kat Carter, was there working on a project while we were talking, and she chimed in, "It attracts good vibes here."

I asked my friend, Saori Wall, what she liked about clay class, and she got back to me with this lovely testimonial:

"Temple of Mediclaytion feels like a second home for me & that is because of the love that Patrick, Sam and the rest of the team pour into the space. My first class was with Andy and she completely blew me away with her grace on the wheel. Clay is enigmatic to me, it can take a punch and is the most delicate thing at the same time. It's a meditation on patience for me & I've taken away more gratifying insight about myself from a lopsided bowl or a wonky mug in my hands than any self help or creative endeavor. It's inspiring to see what other students are working on, see their work progress on the shelves. A friend of mine there, way more advanced than I, once took a piece I discarded out of the trash and said, "Don't throw this away..." "It's got a lot of imperfections", I said. His response was, "that's exactly why it's a beautiful piece. You should glaze it and put it in the kiln." I looked at it again with a different set of eyes & am taking this lesson with me outside of those beloved walls."

Everyone can use more good vibes, right? Throw a new skill in for good measure, and you're way ahead of the game. Johnston told me that the symbol for the Temple Of Mediclaytion is an hourglass with no sand in it, because when you're here, you're not really aware of time - like it is whenever you're having the best time.

Johnston loves Venice, changes and all. He has created the dishes for places like Gjelina and The (new) Rose Café, and is kept busy with commissions and gallery shows.

This is all in response to the moment that ceramics is having now, but also, as he put it, "Creatives in Venice need to hustle now to stay in Venice. It's fun, there are a lot of movers and shakers - because they have to be." Johnston had a drawing teacher named Ted Villa that was fond of saying, "Good, better, best, never let it rest, 'til the good gets better, and the better best." Good advice, and good inspiration, as we all go about learning new things, getting better at them, and preserving the artistic integrity of this wonderful, creative vortex we call home.

Take a clay class!

*Class photos courtesy Saori Wall.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The 2016 L.A. Art Show - So. Much. Art!

The opening of the 2016 L.A. Art Show was last night, and it was truly something to behold. Art just everywhere! So much art it can feel overwhelming to see it all, especially when you're stopping to talk to people you know every few feet. We got there a little late, and I began hyperventilating about how we could possibly see it all ... when person after person said, just cruise, relax, enjoy the pieces you see vs. trying to see everything. Such good advice ... and with that, I was off! (and this is just a random sampling of all that I saw ... someone else might have a whole different trove of photos).

Opening night is so fun to see all the people, but opening night is more about that than even the art. It's hard to see the art, in fact, because so many people are squeezed in around the crowd pleasers that you can't really appreciate them as well as they're meant to be appreciated. But that's why you go back over the weekend. To see things like Melanie Pullen shooting people for her High Fashion Crime Scenes, where there was a huge crowd all night.

A bunch of exhibitors had interaction going on, with performers dressed up to match the art in some instances ...

Or you could BE the scene, if Robert Vargas chooses you to create a mural of in front of you ...

There was a lot of live painting, with giant creations coming to life right before our eyes ...

There was a big showing from Asian artists this year, with a whole Chinese section, and a lot of great stuff from Korean artists as well.

There was a "Fortune" castle, where once inside you were surrounded by mirrors and giant wedding cakes ... but I didn't see any fortunes?

There was an adorable "Bakery" from the Daniel Rolnik Gallery, selling little works of art like (and of) baked goods, complete with a Chef back there. Fun!

A great part of the L.A. Art Show is the fun. Every few feet you run into fun people you know, and with as many Venice folks that make the trip downtown, it calms me down a little bit about artists disappearing in Venice. The Art Scene remains strong!

It's also one of those shows where you realize that absolutely anything can be considered art. A pile of purple sandbags? Art.

A claw holding the Earth while it rotates? Art.

A giant red Sumo wrestler statue? Art.

Taxidermied animals chilling in a dining room setting? Art.

A pile of inflatable animals? Art.

Tires rolled out with fabric across the floor? Art. Just think up an idea that looks cool, and it's Art!

A true highlight every year, and the section I beeline for, is Littletopia. It's where all my favorite stuff is.

My MOST favorite within Littletopia every year is always Red Truck Gallery.

What a delight to walk up and see Noah Antieau and Nick Sin chilling there at the table with friends like they were having a house party in the middle of all this chaos.

Antieau curates his awesome gallery with mostly treasures from New Orleans, where they are located (until they open another one soon in San Francisco - yay!). He represents his Mother, Chris Roberts Antieau, and her simply gorgeous works of folk art and quilts, of which I adore every single one. Like this one, Constellations.

They also feature whimsical automatons like you won't see anywhere else.

Antieau was excited about his new artist that does teeny tiny carvings on the top of pencils out of the lead. Tiny!

I would love to have stayed and hung out with the Red Truck boys, but there was just too much ground to cover. This year's Dali and Warhol heads were replaced by Frida Kahlo, in the always eerily real work of Kazuhiro Tsuji. Trippy.

This year we pretty much skipped the bars altogether because they just take too dang long (although spreading them out this year helped some with that), though you could see a lot of your friends in line if you so chose. I ran into my old pal, Seth Green and his wife, Clare ... and only then was jealous I didn't have a drink to toast him with.

We met a couple who had just returned from Banksy's Dismaland - they reported that it was pretty cool, and they sported a whole lot of merch.

Not to be outdone by Banksy, Mr. Brainwash has a strong showing here, especially with his very cool Jimi Hendriz made out of smashed vinyl records. Loved it.

A nice companion piece with this for me would be the great piece of a guitar wielding butterfly girl that I want by Mark Andrew Allen, who I learned worked out of Venice for years. And also misses Hal's.

Allen's booth also featured a "Selfie Booth" that I did not participate in because I don't do that, but people loved it as much as they to take selfies. A lot.

There were also a lot of butterflies from Damien Hirst, of course, and there was one that almost exactly matched my dress. I had to take a photo - but not a selfie.

Never mind the selfies, most of what people were doing was taking pictures of themselves with all the great art. It can't be helped.

You could see yourself in the cool, steel and studded skateboards hanging on one wall ...

But then, you could see yourself in a lot of the art ... and isn't that what Art is? And why you like it? I mean, I've been a sucker before ...

Some of the art is frustrating because you feel like a monkey could do it. Then there's the art that you have to wonder just how they did it, because it doesn't feel like anyone could do it, so intricate and amazing it is. That's the Art world, though. Just blame Obama.

There was a lot of David Bowie art (that all seemed to be done before his death at least), but this was the best one, kind of 3-D.

A similar looking piece was up the way, of a woman, made entirely from wine corks, lighters, and other ephemera that makes up mixed media. Save those wine corks!

If you needed a little break from art and the bar lines, you could cool out with some friends and play some arty ping pong. Why not?

Someone who could probably really use a break was performance artist, Millie Brown, with her Wilting Point piece. She is lying there almost naked, surrounded by flowers, surviving on only water for the five days of the show. She is "focusing on the beauty of the external decomposition around her, and the evolving changes within." And being photographed an awful lot. It was beautiful, but I bet it gets pretty old for her before the weekend is up.

My friend Big Cookie was showing with his sculpture series, Toy Soldiers, depicting young boys as violent men, but still children, in his biting social commentary work. It's powerful stuff.

I loved this deer with waterfalls eyes.

I also loved this piece made from rice paper rolled up, where it would change color depending on where you stood.

There was a crazy installation of sound waves and stuff that I didn't really get from the Metabolic Studio, but it's always fun to immerse yourself in something.

Which is, of course, the point of art, I think. To immerse yourself in something outside of you, to discover the inside of you. There was a big red wall near the VIP area that quoted Auguste Rodin, saying, "The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live."

That's what Art is all about, what LIFE is all about, and I hope you'll get to enjoy some for yourself this weekend at the wonderful L.A. Art Show. I barely scratched the surface here, so you've got a lot to see!

The L.A. Art Show runs now through Sunday, January 31, at the L.A. Convention Center Downtown.