By Karl Abrams
The “art haus” is no more. After several months of feverish painting and philosophizing in a rundown donated space at 1307 Abbot Kinney Blvd., a unique group of Venice artists and creative thinkers/poets have seemingly melted back into the landscape of future possibilities, in search of a new place to gather, to paint and to party.
The BH asked Michael Ford, one of the art haus resident artists, how such a phenomenon roared into Venice for the past several months, only to vanish again.
“Because of the generosity of the J. Gelena owners, and the initiative and coordination of Jim Budman, a space was made available for local artists to work and create. The vigorous response from artists, the general public, and curious walk-in visitors was surprisingly strong and supportive. Everyone was overjoyed and appreciative of a space that they all had wished and longed for. Amazingly, in a very short time, a huge amount of artistic work has been accomplished. A collection of painters and sculptors, film and media makers, photographers, performers, musicians, artisans and art fans have gathered for 18-hour day and night sessions of productivity by sunlight, moonlight, fire light and blue light.”
The BH asked if paintings were sold during these tough economic times. Ford replied, “Art works have been created and sold and others commissioned. All of this happened within the first month. It is a striking inspiration to the 100’s of visitors who have come to see us and participate.”
The rules of the house were minimal. Just come and paint. Ford told us, “Spread about the art haus and backyard, at makeshift ‘art stations’ each day, artists focused quietly, intent on their works. At other times [they were] engaged in playful chatter or had long discussions, wondering whether ‘cumulative resource’ and commonly shared spaces are the long-term answers. This spot (being temporary as a new restaurant will open here next year) is a model of what the artist and public seem to want, an example of what an artist community can be, and in turn, what the art community actually is, here and now, in Venice.”
Rachael Tatum, a young and talented artist, writer and active participant in the art haus tells the BH how a small group of Venice artists “…found temporary solace in a dilapidated house, with ceilings as crumbly as our intentions. There are no rules or regulations, mostly negations and nonsense. Don’t wear anything you care about here, you’ll get paint on it and nobody will feel bad. I think we are all riding on a really nice sexy wave with gravel in the backyard and masks hanging on a plaque near the door. As strangers pass through this space, we fit even more snuggly into the image we want, don’t want and can’t help but be.”
Judging by the enormous number of finished and unfinished drying canvasses, much work got done. The lives of the artists who participated would be changed forever by the evolving magic that fueled their artistic obsessions. Tatum describes how, “There is an air about everything that makes you feel useless unless you are creating something, adding to the leftover pieces of our simple and small existence. That air should be everywhere, not just here.”
Was the dilapidated old structure conducive for hard artistic work, asked the BH? Tatum goes on, “We like the dirt on the floor and the way the blue lights make us feel. Dirty hippies, paint splattered suits, fake fires on television screens, candle lit dining room tables covered in crayons… and the roof seemingly falling in. I believe in what this is all about, which I don’t really know at all and that is why I believe in it. Most of the time all I want to do is lift my dress over my head and walk barefoot through the house.”
Were non-artists welcomed to hang out at the art haus? Tatum smiled, “You don’t need to be a somebody to fit yourself into the puzzle of our messy rooms, but you can’t be nobody. It is highly recommended to sit outside at night [in the backyard of couches and exhibits] and listen to the shit that falls out of people’s mouths. You will definitely catch something worth holding onto.”
Tatum, speaking of “…the man with the feathers in his hat…” refers respectfully to another tireless art haus resident contributor who describes the space as a “psychedelic orphanage” hovering in a “temporary autonomous zone”.
She is referring of course to James Mathers, another mad artist who loves to describe the indescribable as a non-stop visionary oil painter dedicated to painting transformative “portals”. He paints far into the night, as do many of the other resident artists.
Mathers, describing himself as a “…vagabond gypsy and philosophical monster painter/poet”, calls the temporary art haus phenomenon an “inherently holy act” that is a:
“Rickety flower of new creation. In its brief flickering, it has birthed numerous bodies of work, inspired a pack of painters, photographers, musicians, and others in a long psychedelic smear of goodwill, alarm and nostalgia across class lines.”
What’s next, asks the BH, and will there be another such community of Venice artists working publicly for all to see? Mathers tells us that “…artists like us are dinosaur…we are still here and all around you…we have simply learned to fly… [we are] a rear view mirror for a world that can only be understood backwards, if at all. We are always vanishing, like the 99 Gallery whose courageous champions of visionary art have also vanished, vanquished by loss, gloss and cost.”
Ford adds that, “With luck and some type of ‘collective initiative’…[the art haus] can [continue to] be an idea or vision of what an artist community can be in the future. Most were happy to be present, taking advantage of the immediate time and space available, working diligently and productively to create inspirational and relevant works within the cultural context of the Venice community.”
Mathers leaves us with, “We [artists] have such a gentle hold, for all our tenacious images, [we are] a butterfly of ontological anarchy that alights for a moment, calls into question the status quo, challenges assumptions and is gone.
Thank you Venice for your love and attention. We are the vanquished, ever vanished, but you will never get rid of us.”