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 - www.rcronk.com - 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!