Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Art Of Gary Palmer - Depth And Magic

It's a rainy day in Venice, perfect for reflecting. And for writing about - and reading about - the meditative art of my friend, Gary Palmer. I first got to know Gary Palmer as a friendly Irishman who was also a regular at The French Market. Then I got to know his art. And then I wanted to know more, so after years of friendship and coffee (and one memorable champagne all day marathon) run-ins, we finally sat down to chat about his whole story and his art.

Palmer was born in Belfast in 1968, "When the troubles began." He attended a school that was a mix of Catholic and Protestant kids, which made him interested in what created peace and reconciliation. Art became a way for him to retreat into his own little world as an escape to a place where people weren't fighting. He was also fascinated by the street paintings he would see, that to him led to underground magical worlds, and saw those artists as local heroes. He kept winning art prizes throughout his school years, but didn't want to attend art school, because he didn't want to be told how to paint. So he studied theoretical physics at Edinburgh instead. And got a Masters in Architecture. No big deal.

A gig with an architect in Australia got Palmer even more into street paintings, and he began doing his own chalk art with a 3D perspective. He attended street art festivals all over the world, and following the sun led Palmer to Los Angeles. He published a book of his chalk art called A Carpet Of Dreams in the 90's, and kept attending festivals. His first studio was in Hollywood on Cahuenga, where he started doing paintings on canvas for a living, as people would walk by and want to buy the paintings off of the walls. It was his mother's dream to live in California, and soon Palmer's family joined him in L.A. He did some street painting in Venice, and "liked the vibe" here. When Bush Jr. took office, it freaked Palmer out so he took off for a six month meditation retreat in Mexico, and when he came back, Elwood Risk offered him his studio space in Venice. Palmer leaped at the chance, and was soon ensconced on Vernon in Venice, working on meditation paintings that incorporated his thoughts on gravity and physics, which "are tied to understanding nature."

Street painting adventures in Italy led to a trip to Africa from Malawi to Zanzibar, where Palmer enjoyed observing how diverse people can come together and all get along. This became a dominant theme and inspiration for Palmer, as he began to explore how different cultures interact with each other. Paintings feature such diverse subjects as Masai warriors and the Lacondon (Ancient Mayans who never cut their hair), as Palmer would travel to observe peaceful indigenous peoples living in harmony with nature. Narrative paintings with accompanying writings and abstract expressionism works make up his Memories of Zanzibar series (with a limited edition monograph "life diary" boxed set put out by Fathom Gallery).

Back in Venice, living on Flower and working on Sunset and Vernon, was a grand old time for Palmer, with music and art and parties and creative juices flowing ... until last year when he got the boot out of the artist studio building on Vernon due to massively increased rent (the sad and all too common story around Venice these days). Fortunately for Palmer, a friend was leaving Venice and offered her studio space right on the Boardwalk to him for an actually affordable (fair) price, and now he gets to work with an ocean view. Things have a way of working out sometimes.

More recently Palmer has been doing these great meditation pieces, that he says are "Saying something ABOUT nature, instead of being a picture of it. The meditation pieces reflect the breath." I dig that. "You get bored if you do the same thing all the time, you have to EXPLORE. You make a diary of your life, and even the installation is part of it." This makes sense then that after a relationship with a Japanese woman, Palmer is now doing abstract landscapes with sumi ink that you can view at the Tarryn Teresa Gallery. They remind me of the art where you blow the ink around with straws, so again you are reminded about the breath - and to take a moment to appreciate it and breathe.  During all of this creativity, Palmer is also at work on a book, On The Nature Of Nature - bringing him back to his physics roots. He's an impressive cat.

On Venice and its draw for artists, Palmer says, "There is a good tradition of art and painting, and the 'Space and Light Movement' here in Venice, with Ed Moses and Larry Bell ... people see different things here." A big sigh was exhaled while reminiscing about old Hal's and the Venice West stories. "That's part of the heart and soul of it all ... it's still here, but it's changed a lot. I'm nostalgic about it all. The next generation is all about tech, and the spirit of talking to each other at a bar is much less. But there's still a hell of a lot of positive, so I don't like to gripe." He still frequents the "pale shadow" of Hal's, because there is still the art and our people and jazz, and James Beach, the LA Louver, and The French Market remain his mainstays - and mine.

"There is a depth and a magic about the place. There are still nuggets of that here every day. An artist sent me a letter offering me her space just as I was about to move it to Inglewood! People see it differently. One person's idea of what it's about here is totally different than another's." And that's what keeps it interesting, I suppose. One very cool thing that Palmer is working on is to get an annual street art festival up and running in Venice. "Venice is crying out for a street art festival. It would be a nice way to bring the past into the present." To start out with a chalk art festival, and add the whole gamut, like tattoo artists, muralists, graffiti artists, all of them is the goal. "It's a bit more Venice to have ALL of the street art together." I'm all over it. Palmer has had a section of the Abbot Kinney Festival each year dedicated to a community mandala chalk art piece, and it's always one of the highlights of the day. They've been denied that space (?!?!) for the next one, as the want it for more commercial space. Blah.

Palmer mentioned that Hinano's approached him about maybe making it happen down on the Washington Square, and I can't think of anything more awesome, with all the chalk art and murals and everything extending all the way down to the end of the Venice Pier, with everyone working together on a big mandala in the circle part of it above the ocean waves below. And the Geobender can make sand ones alongside it!

I say that because the very day I interviewed Palmer, I walked down the beach afterword, and saw the sand mandala by Geobender there in the sand - more meditative art, and  another beautiful example of the depth and magic of the place! Kismet. Let's help get that festival going, but also continue to search for those special qualities of this place as an every day reality.

Like Gary Palmer does.


  1. upcoming show : Saturday April 14 | 6-9 pm
    Allen Pacheco Salon
    173 Pier Ave, Santa Monica, Ca 90405

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