By Eric Ahlberg
EA: How was Artblock for you?
WA: I was great, I did well, but it wasn’t necessarily from Artblock people per se, it was some people who have always been here for every year, but the energy was good. I wasn’t sure how many people would
show up, and then it got better and better. But I just liked all the artists coming together and doing their thing. It took me twenty years to get on the Artwalk. Some people tried, you know, anti-artwalk, every goddamn cute thing to go around Artwalk. But now they have blocked art from being in it, and we are Artblock. It actually has a meaning, metaphorically it’s working for all sides of it, for anybody who’s upset or happy or just wants to start something new. And then at the same time I thought, you know, we gotta do this separate from the Artwalk, two times a year.
EA: What has been your experience with the Artwalk?
WA: One of the ladies, and she didn’t tell me what company she was with, she said she was with one of the major funders of the Artwalk. She came, and she stayed for a long time, and she was just like, “ I cannot understand why you are not on the Artwalk.” The disrespect, I applied four times, the fourth time I applied, Sheila, who used to run it, her daughter came in that weekend and they spent $10,000. Her daughter came in with her husband and two kids, loved everything, and she said, “You know, I really want to talk to my mom about you being on the Artwalk. I told her I had applied three times. So I felt that was the last application: when her daughter applied for me verbally. She went over there, and she left all her stuff, they came back after the show to pick everything up with their car and she was almost in tears. And a little pissed. She said, “It’s not right, you do make Fine Art, and they say you don’t.” And I was like, are you kidding me? This is the most patronizing thing I’ve ever heard. And I’m like, my uncle has been head of the Art department at Yale for 25 years. My brother went to Yale, I could have gone to Yale, I turned it down. I came here at 13. I was already in 12th grade. Schooling to me means nothing, it’s about survival. It’s about me surviving as an artist with six kids here. And struggling, and Google and Microsoft moving in, where it’s like finally someone who can help us move forward as artists. And our community also, and then I get wiped off the map? And tell me it cost any money, that map is given to them by a printer, who writes it off because they put their name in there. The busses, does that save them money? I think it’s just like planning in the City. They think they are doing well, they don’t know what they are doing. You wanna finally know how I got on the Artwalk? I got a call from our people about how they wanted to come by and see my studio. I was sorta offended, well, I just finished the Boardwalk. I finished a 25 foot column down there. I did tile work on restrooms all the way down there, and I’ve done just about every school on every block all around here at my own cost, and you want to see if I can be on the Artwalk? And I said OK, come on over. And then they were there with three of the new people with Laddie Dill. And Laddie’s like, Bill, we need to come in. And I said, “No No No you’re not coming in here. None of you guys are coming in here.” And they’re like please calm down and I said “No, Fuck that! Before I open my door, you tell me I’m on the Artwalk.” They put me on the Artwalk, but not my column on the Boardwalk. I’m a little bit of a hothead, but I’m a truth sayer.
EA: The event looks kind of Touristy to me.
WA: That’s what we want, I have no problem with format, what’s important is the art is in each place. And that they respect that there’s a living person in there, who are coming from all different lifestyles. Everyone’s struggling. I’m trying to keep up a massive studio. Two tons of clay used to be 400 bucks, now it’s 1000. Venice survived on art, and we helped all the artists start down there, the old guys who were here started inspiring people like me who came here
and started going on the Boardwalk. Now the whole Boardwalk is filled, I know those guys down there.. they’re making 600 bucks a day a lot of them right? I’m lucky to make 600 bucks a day here. I have to wait for the big payoff.
EA: Who makes $600 a day down there?
WA: I know a guy, he goes down there on a Monday Tuesday or Wednesday. On the weekend he leaves somebody else down there. He never sells any, cuz everybody’s coming down there with 20 bucks. But during the week, people walk by and they live here, the whole neighborhood is changing. People used to ride by on the bike and not buy anything.
EA: What do you think about Artcrawl?
WA: I was part of the first shows, and I loved it. I got a little burnt out, because we did the first shows up on top of Tony Bill’s building. Juan Carlos and myself and a bunch of artists but every month, and then after a year, and not selling one piece, I was delirious, and a little tired. I think it’s an incredible thing, but I think it’s diluted. The first year Artcrawl started, people would ask “Oh you’re doing the Artcrawl?” and I’d say “No, it’s the Artwalk,” but now it’s the Artblock. I think it’s really about Venice Art. The so-called brat 7 white pack, the great guys who were doing their stuff back here in the sixties, and a whole lot of women were doing stuff here also. There were a few other artists, I know Basquiat worked here for a while. There’s an inspiration here that’s different, so for me, anything that promotes the arts in any way, I am unshamelessly ready to support it. Like some people are all upset about the Artwalk kicking us out. I’m like, this is an opportunity for me.
EA: Francisco Letelier told me he has never been in the Artwalk.
WA: Once they accepted me I said they had to accept Francisco. This is a man whose father was a great patriot to the arts, music, politics, truth, everything, romance, and then he’s assassinated right there near the White House and this kid did not take up arms, he took up brushes. They don’t even respect that?
EA: His house is a beautiful shrine.
WA: I go over there and there’s like Jackson Browne playing, and Chilean writers and artists. It’s a cultural center, it’s a place of high respect, and he owns it. And he’s not on the Artwalk, what the fuck is that? And then my friend Juan Carlos, who works for Robert Graham, hasn’t been on the Artwalk forever, he’d always be on the Artwalk across the street and here at my studio. And finally, thank god, he got put on the Artwalk down on Pacific and Westminster. He’s totally torn, he came over here and said “I don’t really even want to be on the Artwalk.”
EA: How are Boardwalk Artists doing ? I was under the impression that people were just selling ten to twenty dollar works.
WA: Even when I go down there myself, I did some artwork down there for the Venice Alehouse, and I started doing these fish down there. And I realized there’s a whole other market down there now, I watched somebody sell a painting for $800 right in front of me at seven o’clock at night. Couldn’t believe it, the guy paid cash. Most prices are between one hundred and three hundred dollars. That guy, Smell my Finger, that old crazy drunk guy, I love that guy. The big museum, they did the whole thing for them, they included everybody but me. If you sell six paintings at one hundred dollars a piece. You got two hundred thousand people coming through on the weekend. You got the City tax people checking it off, and it’s a great place for the parole officers, that’s what I hear, they just go down there and check people. I was pretty pissed off. I gotta tell you straight out. I’ve had the worst 5 years financially in my life. I take my kids to the Free Clinic now. I’m receiving financial help. Things have been slow. I have six kids, it’s not easy. What the Free Clinic provides to me, over the last 20 years. I’ve been here when I only had two kids, picking through a dumpster to get wood to paint on, and I put a nail through the palm of my hand and I went over there and they took care of it. I’ve been over there very sick and waited and they take care of me. I take my kids and we might have to wait a couple of hours, it was very frustrating but I was very grateful. At the same time the doctor comes in and he’s sick, he has a mask on, he’s working overtime. So everybody’s working overtime. You wanna supply the war machine, or you wanna supply the making of something from nothing machine, and that’s what we do as artists. And that’s what we have to start doing as a country. We can turn this whole thing around, I see more kids sitting around here on the Boardwalk with a note written or a little cute drawing, or they make some kind of cute limerick, give me a dollar or give me a joint.
EA: I saw one guy with a sign “Kick my Ass one dollar”.
WA: That’s fucking Genius. For me we’re at a breaking point, and I think art is going to be a big part of it. Creation is more important than all the monetary things. Even when you got the monetary, you have
to create what you want with it, or you are not happy. We have a whole lot of people here that should have been included. In the long run, I don’t like seeing things fragmented, and I have no answers, but I am totally there to work with anybody and I want to make everything work together, because the Venice Free Clinic is a part of our community. Without that we don’t have a backbone. We have the VFC, we
have VCHC, St Joseph, Venice Arts, we have SPARC, we have so many great organizations that are dedicated to moving forward about everything that is best in America and Venice. This is what I’m talking about, and vote for me when I run for president.
EA: There you go.
WA: On the whole gentrification thing, it would have been better if they explained that it would have been better not to sell your house for a hundred thousand because if they waited 10 years, it would be worth a million.
EA: Has Google affected your neighborhood?
WA: It’s been great, really good. People come by on bikes and buy from me. And they dress down, too.
EA: Has there been more traffic?
WA: Gold’s Gym patron traffic is the craziest. Those guys are, they fly out of there, that’s the worst. Google, they are really patient, they have the busses, it seems like it’s very calm. I ride my bike there all the time and I have never had one impolite person coming near me. Gold’s Gym patrons, they will run you over. You know 9/11, right when that happened, I was coming out that morning about ten o’clock and I was in shock watching TV. I’m coming out of Rose Cafe on my bike, a cup of coffee in my hand. Two guys pull up, full Gold’s Gym outfit guys. I’d seen them there before, and they stop me, they pull up next to me, and say “Fucking Terrorist!” I looked behind me, then I looked back. The dude spit strait in my face. I mean like a car length. And I had long hair you know, and I had my kaftan, My Iranian scarf, it had peace signs on it though. I was already freaked by the
whole 911 thing, so they rode along next to me and cussed at me the whole way. I thought don’t pull into Gold’s. And sure enough they did and they got out of their car and started screaming at me, “Come on
Terrorist!” Two Mexican Guys. I was like, Brother, what the hell is your trip?” I got a cup of coffee and a face full of spit, so I don’t know what to expect ever in Venice, but I don’t judge anything. You know what I do? I just try to help everybody in front of me, do one thing at a time. Because when the shit hits the fan, you are going to need people behind you. You gotta have that spirit behind you, because people will remember you when the time of change is happening.
EA: Do you think we should make efforts to get the Artwalk to bring the local artists back in?
WA: Alright, they brought in artists from LA, from downtown, to show here, after cutting us out. I think they are losing out, they don’t understand their perspective, they don’t understand what’s going on. I
want to reach out to them, I want to reach out to everybody that, there are no divisions, the Artwalk, The Clinic works for everybody. They are totally underwritten, they don’t need the Artwalk, but the reason they got the underwriting is because of two things: supporting local artists in Venice, and supporting youth in Venice, who are primarily poor Black and Mexican kids. Now the demographics have changed, and so they branched out to other areas, but at the same time they have to look at who are the suffering people in Venice now. It’s young artists trying to pay enormous rents. to survive and stay in a place like this. And to go to the most prestigious place in the world to make art. It’s not New York anymore. It’s Venice. And then there’s three different cultures of it. There’s the Boardwalk Art, making a dime a dozen, busting their ass, and in that group there are people working their fine art, working their way up. There are the people who are renting small apartments, who are making galleries inside these little spaces, like Juan Carlos. And then there are the people who are renting gallery studio space, like Gary Palmer.
EA: Do you ever hang work in restaurants?
WA: I setup in Giraffe Restaurant a few year ago, and I sold one piece in three years. I just did an installation at Wabi Sabi with Juan Carlos, we did all the art in there. I did the Venice Alehouse.
EA: Final Words?
WA: We are the Artwalk we walk with art, we walk as art, we are walking art.
By Eric Ahlberg