Monday, January 31, 2011

How We Roll - California African American Museum

I've got family in town visiting, and you know what that means ... Field trips! We had lofty ideas, starting with Death Valley (never been?), pared down to wine tasting in Temecula, scaled back to a whale watching boat trip ... and then we awoke Sunday morning to rain and cold. A perfect day for museums. I'd been wanting to go to the Science Museum Imax for ages, so off we went to check out the Hubble telescope Imax 3D show. It was so awe-inspiring, I got teary eyed (not that hard, but still), floating through the billions of stars and nebulae, watching planets being formed before our very eyes. Dope.

The Exposition Park campus of the Science Museum is also home to an Air/Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the California African American Museum. It was there that I saw the extra cool exhibit that would be catnip to most Venice dwellers, "How We Roll" - Cultural Influences in Skateboarding - Surfing - Rollerskating, depicting the roles of those sports in black culture through the years.

No photos were allowed inside the gallery, but the stuff even before you go inside was great - and photograph-able. The very nice docent, Patsy, was so enthusiastic and warm, I almost wanted to move in. Great art (my favorite were pieces on wood by Keba Konte), a ton of skate decks, photographs and magazines, stories, shoes, inspirations ... all of it just that - inspirational.

I loved every piece in the thing, and would encourage anyone at all interested in surf and skate culture to get on down there, especially as the show has been extended into March.

Keeping with the theme, we next headed over to Griffith Observatory for sunset over the city, and more space knowledge. I hadn't been up there since the extensive renovation, and it's really impressive (and freezing), and the kind of place where you feel a little smarter after you leave.

There's so much to do in L.A. ... Remember that you don't have to wait for visitors to get out there and do it all!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thomas Houseago Exhibit at L & M Arts

All Together Now. What good timing for this great-named exhibit of Thomas Houseago's sculptures at L & M Arts Gallery on Venice Boulevard. That was the vibe of President Obama's State Of The Union speech last night, and would be great if it could be our vibe all the time. Fittingly, much of Houseago's work entails the human form, if through the eyes of a tribal chieftan or maybe even a little Picasso.

Houseago is a young, Los Angeles based artist, hailing from Leeds, England. The sculptures currently featured at L & M (January 22nd - March 5, 2011) are all brand new, and from the materials he uses (Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, bronze, redwood ...) to the images they become, you feel the past merging with the right now.

Mom and I took advantage of the gorgeous Venice day to take a stroll down the block and check it all out. Following are some of our favorites from the exhibit ...

Wood Totem, 2010

Tujunga Series (Moon and Pine), 2010

Study (Hands-Feet II) Waking, 2011

Bottle II, 2010

Dancer II, 2010

Moon Figure, 2010

Giant Mask (Cave), 2010

Cool stuff. A really wide variety of styles and feelings, figures and landscapes. Do check it out for yourselves, as it's pretty cool to have such world class art as your neighbor.

Meanwhile, at the beach, Larry Nelson was back at it this morning, creating his just as beautiful works, though it may be washing away even now as I type. After L & M, we decided to carry on with our golden afternoon amble, to the shore, to see what the sand wound up becoming today.

From the sparkly bikini'd bodybuilder lady being photographed nearby, to the surfers cruising up to behold this wonder, everyone at the beach got a dose of culture today as well.

I wonder if L & M would be into doing a very Venice exhibit of sand sculpture sometime? I loved the juxtaposition of today so much ... art just everywhere!

All together now!

Houseago: L & M Arts Gallery, 660 Venice Boulevard, Venice.

Nelson: The Venice Breakwater, Pacific Ocean, Venice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

KVB - Your Venice Beach Radio Station

Venice has its own brand new radio station now, folks - KVB, online at KVB.FM, streaming dance tunes and Venice news and fun stuff, 24 hours a day.

I sat down recently with the founder, owner, programmer, pretty much everything-er of KVB, Michael Linder, to hear about his vision for a station that's all about Venice. KVB is run out of his home/studio, perfectly located right above Ocean Front Walk, with the Boardwalk hubbub and vast blue ocean right outside the windows.

The whole situation is operated from a computer and a few techno boxes, to a global internet audience. I learned from Michael that the first radio station in 1922 Venice was KFAV, a tiny 5 watt station that went on air to promote the new Ballroom at the beach. Along those same lines, KVB plays an all dance format, the only one of its kind in Los Angeles.

Linder has a long and storied broadcasting career, beginning with an early gig on WMCW (Milk Center of the World), a local farm radio station in Wisconsin. From there, he went on to interview interesting people (The Ramones, Tom Waits, John Lennon at his green card ceremony ...), and even helped to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the release of 227 hostages in Kuwait. There's a picture on his book shelf of them together, and Linder said, "Saddam was always very good to me ... he was a small town gangster that took over a country, who Bush Senior then double-crossed after he saved our ass for ten years with Iran." You wind up going down a lot of interesting conversation paths with Mr. Linder, that is for sure.

Radio led to TV news, on camera. Then work as a producer on Entertainment Tonight, then creating America's Most Wanted, which "reinvented t.v. ... it's all reenactments now!" Linder made a move to Tokyo to work on US/Japanese television co-productions, and then after fondly recalling his first stint living in Venice in 1973 (in a "No tell Motel"), he came back to the beach, for 20 years now.

Most recently, Linder grew bored with doing radio news, and thought that since so many people are interested in both Venice and Dance Music world-wide, a Venice radio station could be both a hit and a community service. There is brand new cd quality dance music streaming every day, "a modern art form that is shaping acoustic realities ... with all the International DJ's out there now, it's a dance planet." I asked about the strictly dance format, as my own ears are more guitar attuned, and he said, "Dance music is party music and Venice is a party town, so why not feel good and dance?!" I could not argue with that a bit. And not quite a month in, (the station debuted on New Year's Eve with a 29 hour non-stop Rave) there have been no mass Rave hospitalizations reported due to KVB as yet. Bonus.

KVB is also "a radio blog, in a way." Meaning that the local news and human interest stories posted on the site are a snapshot in time of every day here in Venice. Community issues and interests are discussed in interviews with people like the VNC's Linda Lucks, on the State of the City (if we were a city, ahem), and correspondent Tibby Rothman interviewing surfboard shaper Scott Anderson. Man on the Street, Zuma Dogg, with a story on local street artist, Kid Iconz, and another story giving out medical marijuana brownie recipes. Clearly you do not have to deal with the FCC in the online format - another bonus.

The Podcast stories are all entertaining, and offer a slice of life to listeners far and wide. Joe Praino, a comedian and KVB reporter, recently went around to bars asking the mixologists their feelings/warning them about Lindsey Lohan moving into the neighborhood. Another one about the guy who walks on glass on the Boardwalk, who says in his great accent, "I jump on glass, talk shit, and make people laugh." Classic, all. The street noise and crowd chatter add to the feeling that you really are having a nice time in Venice - even if you're not, because you're in Iceland or somewhere.

I asked Linder his personal feelings about Venice, and he said, as most do, "There's a creative energy bursting out of this place ... why would you want to live in Brentwood?! I've had a life long love affair with Venice. There's a hometown you're born with and a hometown you make for yourself, and Venice is that for me." (Me too!) He added that "It's the people that make you stay. Like the ladies at Small World Books, who CARE, and manage to stay open when so many others have failed. Waruku on Abbot Kinney makes me feel like I'm back in Tokyo. All the cute shops and restaurants ... walking down the Boardwalk on MLK Day was just amazing ... one guy had a sign that said, "Will do raccoon stuff for money!"

Linder's glee at his chosen hometown's creativity and uniqueness is obvious and inspiring. He did say, however, that he is "heartbroken by the way the community is being split in two - or more - about issues like the homeless and rv's ... the political rancor is as serious here as in the entire country." He is firm about not participating in neighbor vs. neighbor, and feels a real need to rethink political dialogue on all sides. Again - and why this is so hard to grasp, I'll never know - we're all in this TOGETHER. Or as Linder put it, "It's all about evolution, and how to get to the next phase. We're all going to get there together, so let's not beat each other up in the carpool." Yeah.

We talked about how Venice is so special because "People come here looking for people who are NOT like them. Diversity and individualism are worshiped and praised, and how many places like that exist on the PLANET?!" Sadly, but truly, not many. We agreed that we are incredibly lucky, and that we ALL need to remember that.

KVB.FM celebrates all of that, 24 hours a day, with both humor and balance. Linder and I ended our conversation as the Boardwalk and beach turned all golden outside the windows, and he said, "I don't know where this will go, but if you put enough good energy into it, good things happen."

True for KVB, surely, but true also for Venice, and the entire World.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rip Cronk Rips!

Of course I've been familiar with the art of Rip Cronk for years and years ... we all are, here in Venice. His murals are icons of the community, from Jim Morrison on Speedway, to the huge Abbot Kinney on North Venice, from his self-portrait hanging over The Boardwalk, to the brand new one he's been working on for the past three months on the side of Danny's Deli ... I'd argue his art is as important to Venice as any attraction we have.

I was not familiar with the man himself, however, until we sat down and had a beer at Danny's together after he knocked off for the day, so I could learn about how it all came to be. What a cool guy.

Rip grew up on the East Coast, then went to get his art degrees in Florida and New Mexico. From there he moved to Hawai'i, where he got into the mural medium. He didn't feel the desire to pursue gallery art, as it's hard to get into one, and then they just want more of the work that got you in, so your freedom of expression is pretty much censored by the gallery owner's market. No, he wanted to get the big public walls. The walls that not only reach a wide audience, by their sheer size alone, but that also affect society, and become landmarks of a neighborhood, as Mr. Cronk's surely have here in Venice. (Check his website - - for super insightful and wise essays on art and culture).

He moved to Venice in 1979 "on a lark", (he's lived here three different times, as he said, he doesn't visit places, he just moves to them) and one day saw an ad for a muralist needed at SPARC. That is what you call destiny. He was, and is, involved with SPARC ever since, and the social/public art they champion. The mural projects gave Rip ways to interact with the fine art context in new and different ways, as evidenced by the variety of his works.

The giant murals come about in different ways. Rip keeps his eyes open for attractive sites, and he's also approached by business owners who want a cool wall, that enables them to be seen as a "culture provider". That then tends to help them commercially, so everyone wins. Rip explained that he's "not trying to make the big bucks, I'm trying to get the big walls." He isn't interested in being commissioned to do, for instance, a big historical vignette, he's more interested in the mural BECOMING history, which it does the day it goes up. The big walls give him the freedom to take ideas in unexpected directions, as he really only does a rough sketch of a piece, and then makes most of it up on the wall as he goes along. It's been fascinating to fly down Speedway every morning and see his progress sailing along, and funny too, as various citizens lobby to get themselves included up on that vast Venice tableau.

We talked about Venice itself a while, and all that Rip has seen change (and stay the same) over the decades. I liked when he said that of the 200,000 people down on the Boardwalk on a weekend, the 2,000 of them that are a real part of the community are all you really see ... the ones that truly have a sense of "Core Community". He finds there to be a very protective, self-regulating camaraderie among locals, that crosses financial lines. "The business owners and the street people have the same values, and mostly even dress the same," said Rip, when explaining how he feels that Venice is really a focal point for creativity.

"Not just the Boardwalk or Abbot Kinney, every SIDE street is FULL of creators, in every house. They've been drawn here for over half a century, and creativity just BREATHES out of here. Even if an idea started somewhere else, it catches on here. It's a cultural vortex." I sat there listening to Rip explain what I've always felt, while surrounded by the faces of Venice past and present that Rip painted on the inside walls of Danny's Deli. You could almost see the faces of the mural nodding in agreement.

Rip has notebooks of ideas that have never been used, because the idea comes from the location. And with Venice as a location, there has been no shortage of ideas. "The Boardwalk is a cultural EVENT that happens every day, unto itself ... Venice is an International Beach, unlike anywhere in the world." That got us to talking about how for as big of an attraction (and revenue earner) as Venice is, how little the city of Los Angeles gives to it (gross bathrooms, poor street cleaning, not enough garbage cans, etc.). On that note, and for the record, Mr. Cronk is FOR Venice cityhood.

Rip now lives up north in Weed, California, where he raises horses with his wife, Lindy. Though not a resident at present, he remains a key figure of Venice, to the extent that publications continually contact him as a Venice source - for good reason. He works down here a lot, obviously, and when he's in town, he can most likely be found - when not up on his scaffolding machine painting - at Danny's Deli, James Beach and the Sidewalk Cafe. He loves the beach and the canals, and continues to be inspired by that creative vortex, even now after all these years.

As far as changes to Venice, Rip said that thanks to things like our Art Crawl (every 3rd Thursday!), people can go out in an alley now and feel safe, and "I like that!" He feels it's less dangerous now, with no loss of edge. One failing, as he sees it, is that hippies seem to have been edged out, and he urges them to come back! (I guess he didn't think I was hippie enough, but then, we just met). "Other than that, everything that's been happening the past 40 years meets with my approval."

And everything I've seen and heard from Rip Cronk, both artistically and humanly, completely meets with my approval.

*There will be a celebration/unveiling of the new Rip Cronk mural at 7 pm on January 25th at Danny's Deli, with Q&A, drinks and fun. Come out and meet the guy behind the giant works of art you see every day!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Free Form Sand Sculpture

The sun came out today, as it always does eventually. The ocean and the sky were both so blindingly blue at the beach this morning, you just had to stop and soak it up for a minute. Coming off the beach, we saw a guy hard at work with a bunch of stuff, making a sand sculpture. I had to go ask about his deal.

Larry has been making sand sculptures for years, and made most of his tools himself. I asked what his current piece was going to be and he said, "A free form sand sculpture". Well, alright!

I asked how he goes about picking a spot, and he said, "I've tried sand from Palos Verdes to Malibu, and the very best sand is right here" (The Breakwater). Another cool thing about Venice, excellent. I was being pretty inquisitive, and Larry asked if I was from New York. I had never in my life been asked that before ... interesting.

I said he was kind of like a mandala maker, where you make something so so beautiful out of sand, and then it just blows away. PURE art, where the delight is in the making of it, which was clear by Larry's serene face. Like playing a song for yourself, alone in a room. Like landing a tough skateboard trick when no one is watching (or taping). Like writing poems that you'll never show anyone. It is for you, and your own expression.

Larry looked like he was gonna be there a while, and I didn't have all day, so I don't yet know what the finished product looked like, but it's almost beside the point. The point IS - find moments to do what you love, what makes you most happy, and do it for the purity of just doing it, not what might come of it. That is when you'll be most alive.

*Jenny Everhart took these sandy photos!


I was thinking about this the rest of the day, so at sunset I cruised down to the beach to see what became of the Free Form Sand Sculpture. Ok, Dude is genius.

I wish I had thought to zoom in for more detail, as the delicate ripples in the sand were really breathtaking. So was the sunset ... and the way the admiring people were taking pictures (and leaving it alone) as they recognized its beauty. They kept a respectful distance from the piece like in a real art gallery,

But way, way better.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rest In Peace, Dear Patrice.

I can't begin to wrap my head around today. I awoke to a small earthquake. Never great. I walked along the beach and watched the grey clouds roll in and take over. Then I went to my beloved French Market Cafe to get my coffee, where I found it to be closed, with a sign saying "Closed for Emergency" scribbled on a piece of paper and taped to the door.

I kept walking then to head over to Abbot Kinney as I still needed coffee. Badly. Walking toward me was Christophe, our favorite French Market waiter. As I smiled and wished him a Happy New Year, I could immediately tell something was wrong. I asked and he could barely speak, until he managed to get out, "Patrice is dead."

Patrice Martinez, the gregarious and kind owner of the French Market Cafe, who has brightened my day for years and years.

I still have chills. I can't bear to imagine how Patrice's wife, Agnes, is feeling. Theirs was a true and obvious love, full of fun and adventure. Adventure is what Patrice was up to in Chile on a motorcycle trip with his best friend. There was a fatal accident on the bike, when Patrice was hit by an oncoming car. The only comfort you can think of is that he was doing what he loved with his best friend.

I will remember him always exactly as he is pictured above, which is how he looked most of the time. Always a kind word, always a little teasing, always the ultimate host of the delightful neighborhood oasis that he and Agnes created together.

My favorite thing Patrice ever said to me was one day when I met a friend for coffee in the morning at The French (as we call it) ... which became lunch ... which became one, two, then three bottles of daytime champagne with other regulars on the patio. I went inside to get something and bumped into Patrice and said, "Patrice, my morning coffee has become three bottles of champagne!" To which he replied, "C'est bon, that is very french!" We laughed together ... and I stayed until it was dark out.

Please keep Agnes and all the French Market family in your thoughts and kindnesses. And man ... remember to LOVE your life every moment that you have it. It can be gone oh, so quickly.

Rest In Peace, Patrice. You will be forever missed.


*There will be a viewing for Patrice this Friday, the 21st.
4-7 pm
Gates Kingsley Murphy Funeral Home
1925 Arizona Ave. Santa Monica

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year - New Skills: Stand Up Paddleboarding!

Happy New Year, Everybody!

How great, a brand new decade! As usual, we start out thinking "Start fresh. New possibilities. Improve on what I did last year. Remember to write '11' on checks and stuff instead of '10'." Along with all of that, I am determined, with this burst of new year energy, to try (and accomplish) things I've always wanted to, to CHARGE forward and DO!

Well, along those lines, I've been strangled with envy most every morning when walking along the beach and seeing people out in the water Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP). They glide along the water so smoothly, and it just looks so great, I've been meaning to try it for ages.

Enter Sydney Lovelace, a longtime friend and Venice Guy. He teaches swimming, surfing, SUP, and just about anything water related, through his business, L.A. Surf and Swim. Every time I've bumped into him on the streets of Venice, I keep telling him I MUST go out on the SUP with him. We waited all Summer '10 for a warm sunny day, which never really happened. And so it was today, um, a cold (though bright) January day, steeled against the frigid waters with my new year's resolve, that we just went for it.

I talked my BFF Steph into braving the icy Pacific with me, and we headed over to Sydney's place on Brooks Ave., where the super warm backyard pool handles the swimming lessons part of Syd's business. We gathered up the boards, paddles, towels and Booda, Syd's surfing dog, and loaded into Syd's truck to head up to the beach break just past Topanga, where we were going to learn our new lifetime sport.

Driving along PCH, we chatted about it all. Syd grew up in Nashville, and then headed to Florida State on a swimming scholarship. That led to Windsurfing, which led to straight up Surfing, and a move to Southern California in 2001 to be where it's at (aka Venice). As we drove along, and the water just kept looking chillier, Syd explained to us the basic stuff about SUP. A great analogy that kept coming to my mind as I was actually doing it, was when he said your body is kind of like a computer searching, or riding a subway with no hand hold, and it keeps adjusting and finding its balance as you go. I got that.

Soon enough we were unloading the truck and yanking on our wetsuits to begin with a quick little pointer session on the sand before we braved the water. Some stretching, some general tips on where to position your body and your paddle, and it was time to go for it (after the obligatory Duke Kahanamoku type snapshots, of course).

We started out on our knees to get past the breakers, and as rocky and slippery as the shoreline was, it was still pretty easy. It's so fun to ride up and over the waves as you head out, that I got cocky after getting out in the open water, still dry. I thought, "Maybe I'll never go in the water all day, and didn't have to worry about being col-" SPLASH! Yeah, you gotta keep your eye on the ball/balance out there, for sure. On my second session of the day, as the waves grew bigger, I got WORKED getting out, but even that was no big deal, as I've had plenty of practice wiping out on a regular surfboard. Just fall, sputter, climb back on. Rule!

As we got past the breaking waves, it was time to stand up. The boards are much bigger and more stable than regular surfboards, so it's really pretty easy, once you find your balance. And OH, the rewards!

Cruising along on the open sea, looking down into the clear water at GIANT kelp forests, like being on top of Jack's Beanstalk, you couldn't begin to see their bottoms. Then I heard a snuffle, and not one, not two, but FIVE seals popped their heads up so close I could see the color of their eyeballs! It was like a Whack-A-Mole game, how they kept popping up their sweet heads. Then about five minutes after that (though the seals pretty much hung out the whole time), a dolphin's fin broke the water no more than 15 feet away from us!

I was so happy I was about to burst - the entire time. The wetsuits did their job and I wasn't even remotely chilly once. Quite the opposite, when it was time to head in, I didn't want to. I could have stayed out there until dark ... though as I'm typing I can already feel my arms and shoulders stiffening up a bit. Wait, it was EXERCISE too?! I'm in. For life. And anyone at all could do it, it's so chill (once you get out past the waves). Sydney said a great thing about SUP is that you can sight see, or get radical. You can go out on big waves or no waves. It's a sport that is so versatile, you can custom fit the experience to your own vibe.

When the final wave propelled me toward the shore, I felt so exhilarated and just READY, for whatever may come my way this year ... this life. I'm still damp and buzzed from it. It was just so so great! I encourage everyone to get out there and try it, because as I said to Syd and Steph, "It's my favorite thing I've done this entire decade!" And I meant it. Of course, five days in, there's still a bit of time for something to supersede it, but it's going to be a tough competition. And when you do go, you should go with the kind and excellent teacher, Sydney and LA Surf and Swim (voted "Best Learn To Swim Class In L.A."), who teach all ages pretty much all water sports. As Sydney put it, "From the cradle to the wave". Awesome.

Happy HAPPY New Year! Now ... what's next?!

LA Surf & Swim