By Anne Alvarez
Vivianne Robinson is one of Ocean Front Walk’s most colorful and successful artists, known for her ability to write on a grain of rice. Her record is 14 letters on a single grain spelling out “Rumpelstiltskin.”
It is an art form that originated in Ancient Anatolia, where artisans began inscribing messages and names on rice, widely known in those days as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.
Born and raised in Venice, she recalls spending her childhood playing on the Boardwalk, often in bare feet. During her teens, she attended school in Santa Monica, but spent most of her free time rollerskating from Santa Monica to Venice. “I made lifelong friends with the performers, vendors and artists of the time. Growing up in Venice gave me an appreciation for diverse cultures and lifestyles. It helped spark my lifelong love of travel. One of the main reasons I love Venice is the diversity. It is unlike any other place on earth.”
Vivianne should know. During her twenties, she traveled to France, Italy and Germany where she worked as a waitress, babysitter and at McDonalds. “I like to absorb the culture. I have always been fascinated by different languages.” She speaks French and German fluently.
She returned to the States, and received a degree in Recreational Studies from Long Beach State. After graduation, she was offered and accepted a job working for the City of Santa Monica, heading the kids and senior curricular programs. She remained there for ten years.
It was a chance encounter with a kind Indian man in 1994, while vacationing on the beaches of Portugal, that her destiny would change. “He was writing on rice and people were lining up for his trinkets. I asked him how he did it and he took the time to show me. It requires lots of patience and a steady hand,” he said. “He encouraged me to do it back home. As soon as my vacation ended, I purchased some rice, quit my job and was fortunate that a friend had a stall for rent on the Boardwalk, and offered it to me.”
“Never imagining working for myself, I had no experience running a business, and frankly just never thought I would succeed.” Her first day on the Boardwalk, people lined up to get their names on rice, and business blossomed for years. That is, until recently, which she blames on the current recession.
Vivianne has become a staple on OFW, garnering national attention when she was the focus of a Modern Marvels episode for her ability to write the world’s tiniest writing. She only uses Uncle Ben’s rice which she says is “the smoothest, most unbreakable rice out there.”
In 2010, muralist Rip Cronk approached her while he was painting his famous “Venice Reconstituted” mural, which according to the artist, is a parody of Botticelli”s Birth Of Venus masterpiece. He asked to take her picture, and mentioned making her a part of the mural, but asked her not to tell anyone. Vivianne obliged, and didn’t say a word to anyone, not even her parents. “I didn’t really believe it. I was completely surprised one day as I arrived at the beach and saw myself halfway painted on the wall.”
While attending the 2012 London Olympics, (she has attended 5) Vivianne’s colorful outfits made her an instant celebrity after the Associated Press took a picture of her arriving at Heathrow airport and it circulated worldwide. Throughout her stay in London, she was featured on the cover of various British magazines, finding out about them only when another tourists handed her one. At one point she was approached by a member of the U.S Track and Field team while eating at the food court at Westfield London’s shopping center, “I don’t know her name, she just walked up to me and asked if I had ever gone inside the Olympic Stadium. I told her no, and she then handed me a ticket and told me to go, as the races had already begun. To my surprise it was a seat 10 feet from the track surrounded by Track and Field stars representing every country.” Her seat was also next to the massive Olympic torch.
Celebrities often approach Vivianne to take pictures with her, and to purchase trinkets for themselves and as gifts, such as Halle Berry, the Olson Twins and the late Jenni Rivera, to name a few. Vivianne is one of a handful of vendors on the Boardwalk to have two stalls opposite each other. She is also an avid photographer, often documenting the daily goings on of Venice Beach. She hopes to publish a book of pictures in the near future. In the meantime she keeps busy doing her art and working private parties. Next time you’re on the Boardwalk, stop by, say hi and get to know a very intriguing woman.
To learn more about Vivianne check out her website: http://www.nameonrice.com
By Anne Alvarez