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Dale Hartman
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Venice Paintings by
Pat Hartman

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Arielle Haze Tyner

Arielle Haze Tyner
views beach art

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In the Old Days:
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the Lagoon

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1921 Amusements

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Beach

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Unpainting the Town:
lost murals

Helen K. Garber photos

Chris Burden

Jeff Verges

Lance Diskan

Avid Brickman

Art at the Rose Cafe'

New Venice Sign

Venice-based Art

Ferus Gallery

Mario Barrios

Gary Steinborn

Earl Newman

St. Charles Mural

Spoons of Venice

Rena Small

 

 

Embrace the Contradictions!:
Interview with Robbie Conal

John O'Kane

John O'Kane: Since we both live in Venice, I guess you're a few blocks outside the border, I'd like to ask you what your reactions are to the recently celebrated centennial? Venice is an alternative community after all, at least it hasn't been gentrified out of existence yet. So in terms of your political motivations and work as an artist here, did you get charged up about the events?

Robbie Conal: No. Venice is doing quite well without me. I do get a kick out of thinking of the hood as real estate, however. Billions worth of beachy property consisting of a few walled compounds and camouflaged bungalows tucked into claustrophobic walk streets-medieval mini-city states-surrounded by hostile serfs. Driving through what could easily pass for Burroughs' "Interzone," I can't stop myself from counting the number of un-insured rust bucket clunkers battling gleaming monster SUVs to a noxious rolling stop at death trap intersections on Rose and 7th, Sunset and 4th, Indiana and 5th, and the obscenely overbuilt canals (those mansions are actually docked Princess Cruise Line ships). And we still in Ghost Town, baby! Z Boys, indeed. How about Black Z boyees? Have we returned to claim the Pyramids?

NO. We're still slaves, buildin'em for the Pharaoh. Brown Z Homies? Los Zapatistas del Norte? NO. Leaf blowers, kitchen workers, housekeepers and child care mijas contra La Migra anonymous.

Embrace the contradictions. Squeeze the life out of'em ! Now that gets me charged up. Ahhh, but Abbot Kinney! Trying to eat a quiet dinner at Joe's. Trying to get through lunch at Hal's without running into all of Alan Shaffer's acquaintances. Impossible.
The too-hip-to-call an axe an axe crowd at Axe. Good, though. Hanging out with Ed Hamilton, the Zen Cowboy Master of lithography at Hamilton Press. Priceless!
The best traffic light switching box location in all of LA: at California and Abbot Kinney.
Home Plate.

JO: What does it mean to embrace these contradictions? They're striking indeed in these first months of Venice's second century! What are we to do? Some famous German philosopher I think said that contradictory opposites are always temporary, ready to transform into another pair…They're always unstable and mobile because they depend on the mass in the middle that's mostly invisible and in contrast to both extremes. But isn't this middling matter where the potential lies to force change in either direction? This energy, when it comes to Venice, could be alternative residents in the mid-range, a silent but sizable number hanging out, still giving the community some ballast, who could be ready to assume control again once these contradictions dissolve. You don't agree, do you, with those who say that we're destined to become a seamless beach resort like Miami? After all, we were once an upscale resort back in 1905, when Abbot Kinney founded this city. But then we became a slum in the 40s and 50s and it metamorphosed into a haven for Paul Goodman's rebel children by late decade. Don't you see serfers some day squatting in empty Venice mansions, just like hippies did in the mid-60s when Kinney's buildings lay fallow? And what about the Lincoln Place displacement of long-time residents by AIMCO this past December, another conglomerate absentee landlord taking it to the mid-rangers? If our inspired citizens band together and win that battle, and of course if the national scene alters, could it spread like prairie fire and reverse course, fertilizing another boho utopia for our grandchildren?

RC: No. Not until the Apocalypse of Capitalism. (For starters: How about Dubya and Condi doing the "Apocalypse Tango"-she leads-while the Middle East burns?) Or a major earthquake. Tsunami. Alien fleet of spaceships landing on Venice Circle to reclaim the Robert Graham sculpture. Of course, the latter might BE our grandchildren (not the sculpture, the alien hordes…they'd be the ones with heads). In a bubble-bursting minute there'll be NO mass (no mas) in the middle. In Venice or anywhere else in Cali. Just the tippy-top and the bottom. As for Miami, it's got its own festering class and race problems. And worms. Show me the seamlessness of that time bomb and I'll show you an optometrist. Lincoln Place now officially sucks. In the Haight in '67 ("Summer of Love" my ass), a true Hippie Princess friend of mine whispered a bong hit's worth of wisdom into my ear, "If it can suck, it will suck." It does.

On the other hand, there'll always be arty creative scenes in the greater LA area (it's so fucking big and there are so many-too many-kids making art). If I were a young artster in Lalaland today, I'd go to a go-go Gardena. El Segundo. Torrance. Great Japanese food. Square foot-simolean ratio is copacetic. No posers, no tourists. You can't go home again. Venice R.I.P.

JO: I see what you're saying. But it seems Venice still has a special something these other standard bedroom communities don't! As gone as the old-bohemian Venice surely is, it still has traces of a creative community. Does the whole system have to collapse before Venice can change? Sounds like left-wing anti-capitalist cynicism! Don't the kind of conditions you describe, and I think you're mostly on the mark, breed insurgencies? Just a few months ago a Llama herder by the name of Evo Morales got elected president down in Bolivia, a man of the people who rode to power on exactly these kinds of conditions. Admittedly the peasantry are baling fast here in Kinneytown, but perhaps there's a sleeping mass of sympathizers who've cash-cropped the soil for many years now and are ready to join an insurgency?

RC: Insurgent Venetians! You're so cute. We'd all like to think it could happen. The true peasantry in Venice is not baling. Hunkering down in Ghost Town is more like it. The property is so valuable every real estate speculator on the planet covets that turf. So why can't somebody just make somebody an offer they can't refuse? I don't know if it's those pesky rent control statutes that keep the Ghosts in Ghost Town or that the grandchildren of the original tenants now own those buildings. I think the families do own them and somehow-amazingly-they haven't sold out yet for beaucoup bucks. So, NO, not until a Katrina-like tsunami wipes out the poor peeps of Venice and venture capital, someone like Eli Broad (he's always hovering around the west side somewhere, dropping dimes, right?) and local bureaucrats have the excuse -"re-building" will do; "eminent domain," anybody?-to collude their way to a brand new, $queaky-clean "Fantasia Village." Oh, just pick any So-Cal town with the word Beach in it for a paradigm.

Just a matter of cultural priorities, baby! Does our society place a premium on housing all its citizens or is our shelter left to market forces (including the cumulative G force of toiling in the popular culture production capital of the universe that's twisted a chromosome in our captains of The Industry, compelling them to drive their Porsche Cayenne Turbos to the very edge of the continent and hunker down on the sandy shore of an eroding, mudsliding, earthquake prone desert by the sea…to lay their eggs). Is Venice's local government-along with ANTONIOOOO's municipal government and AHHHnold's government and DUBYA's government, of course-dedicated to the health, education and welfare (in the real sense of the word) of all its citizens, including the working poor and its large homeless population? Well, the Venice Family Clinic is cool. Every neighborhood should have one. Is it a city agency? NO. State? NO. Federal? Heavens, NO.

Our "special" problem-yours and mine-is that the art peasantry-your "special something" other than crack- can't get into Venice. I agree with you that Venice has something special: its history. Now, that welcome sign reads, "It's History, Baby!" When a creative community is geographically defined by the real estate market, your sleeping mass of sympathizers is sleeping in another hood. Not by choice, either. Young Artists and Real Estate 101A: How much space can you get for how little money? For how long?

[Y'know, UCLA has had the hottest graduate Fine Arts program in the country for the past few years. Cool beans! And I mean that. Those kids are great! So, where are the UCLA graduate art studios? In a festering warehouse we like to call "The Rabbit Hutch" in Culver City.Those kids like Venice. After stopping at India Sweets & Spices to pick up the best, cheapest samosas in LA, they might even venture out to Abbot Kinney…. nah. Too far. Too expensive. Anyway, they gotta get back to work. Somebody in El Segundo might be gaining on'em.]

 

 

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