Author: Mariko Powers
Fumiko Amano shook her head apologetically, looking down at her paint-splattered pants and sneakers, her eyes accented with pink eyeshadow to match her pink T-shirt. “I’m like, in another world,” she said. After an hour of drawing for Outpost’s fundraiser, the Monster Drawing Rally, she is still coming back to reality.
The community art event held Sunday at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts drew toddlers, seniors, students, professionals and everyone in between to view over 100 artists draw live, giving audiences a rare opportunity to watch the creative process unfold. The artists drew in hour-long shifts, and the finished drawings were sold for $75 at the top of each hour – first come, first serve.
The Center, a charming mission-style building with stucco walls and wood paneling, is in fact the old Eagle Rock Library and a designated site in the National Registry of Historic Places.
Flanked by native southern California gardens, one of the entryways covered by a wooden trellis shrouded in green plants, the establishment is comfortingly nostalgic compared to its urban surroundings. The spacious interior is cleared of permanent structures so that events and exhibits can rotate through, but on Sunday was bustling with activity.
Viewers circled the large square of artist tables sipping drinks, listening to the DJ and chatting with neighbors and volunteers. Cheerios dropped by excited children rushing throughout the space sprinkled the floor.
In the five years since its creation, the Outpost for Contemporary Art has become a central unifying agent in the northeastern Los Angeles arts community. A non-profit organization based out of Highland Park, the Outpost promotes cross-cultural exchange by developing international artistic collaborations. A highlight of their work is the six to eight week long artist residencies in which Outpost brings foreign artists to Los Angeles and sends local artists abroad.
“They [visiting artists] get to see what L.A. is like and create stuff that L.A. inspires,” Outpost Board Member David Bloom said of the residency program, which is organized into geographic cycles that focus on certain world regions. The Outpost just competed its Eastern European cycle and will be beginning its South American artist residencies soon.
Expanding beyond the gallery context, Outpost also hosts exhibitions, screenings, lectures and workshops to stimulate social interaction in the community and to broaden the role art plays in society. “Devoted to bridging the local and the global, Outpost creates networks of art, artists and art audiences that span continents while connecting local communities,” stated the organization’s Web site.
Studio Art major Sara Hooker (senior) is an Outpost intern and Education and Action Facilitator with Oxy’s Center for Community Based Learning, facilitating the connection between Outpost and Oxy. “They’re a great organization. We’re actually hoping to bring artists to Occidental’s campus through Outpost to do projects with students. So watching that relationship grow has been really neat for me to see and be a part of,” she said at the Monster Drawing Rally.
Discussions of Outpost bringing programming to Occidental have already begun. President Jonathan Veitch and Dean of Students Barbara Avery have been “wonderfully enthusiastic” about the partnership, said Bloom. Both parties hope to get students engaged in the arts scene in Eagle Rock, and are excited about the prospect of bringing arts not to just the art department, but throughout the college.Building such a relationship would further what Bloom says is one of the organization’s goals: “to try to fill what we perceived to be a set of holes in the Los Angeles arts community.”
Bloom, who is Associate Dean and Chief Communications Officer for the Marshall School of Business at USC, thinks that second to New York City, L.A. has become the nation’s preeminent art center. But Oxy’s corner of the city, the Northeast section, has yet to see the spotlight.
“This side of L.A., which is home to many, many, many working artists, is really underserved in terms of art galleries, art museums, art programming – so we’ve got a population that is very art-friendly, but it doesn’t have the stuff,” he said of the void. “So what we did was create an organization whose goals are to improve the arts programming here.”
Amano, who has participated in the Monster Drawing Rally on several occasions, appreciates Outpost for the sense of community it provides for artists. “It’s definitely reachable, they are very friendly. Many of the organizations can be very cold if you don’t have the experience . . . they [Outpost] keep the really good quality of services and exhibitions.”
Applying metallic and neon ink onto paper with eyedroppers, Fumiko crafted vibrant abstractions and expressive splashes of color. She finished six pieces but wished she could have completed more. “The challenge is always the fun part, even if your pieces don’t reach your satisfaction,” she said.
The artists’ workspaces were a feast for the eyes – seemingly endless modes of creative processes were represented. There were artists smudging graphite across the page, collages with pieces stapled on haphazardly, multi-media drawings made with tufts of thread, an image of a nude woman bathing her child, linear minimalist works depicting clean lines and cubes, watercolor wolves fighting. Huge stacks and boxes of supplies were scattered everywhere, all inevitably soiled by the residue of art materials.
Amano enjoyed doing the live painting because of the social aspect of getting to work around other artists. Her artwork was inspired by the atmosphere of the room, the ambience she received from fellow artists and the vibe of the music. She believes painting with organizations is almost a spiritual experience.
“Most artists work in something of a vacuum,” stated Bloom. “They work in their studio removed from other people, they don’t often interact with their buyers except maybe opening night [of a gallery] reception. Here they’re sitting down at tables next to a bunch of other artists creating stuff. . . It’s a much more social, communicating process and that is very different from what most artists are left with in the creation process. So a lot of artists really love the opportunity to take part in it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Adjacent to Amano, artist Brain Bess created poster-sized collages. As the 3 o’clock mark neared, he applied finishing touches of glue with his fingers onto a piece featuring plant life. “I finished three pieces, it was like a race,” I overheard him say. He stored his leftover images and collage scraps in a large cardboard case which originally housed a Macbook Pro and his glue in a Trader Joe’s pesto tub.
Artist Jay Lizo applied black sumi ink with wooden brushes onto white paper, eventually depicting a close-up snapshot of a musician screaming into a microphone. By working in mono-color he gave depth and form to the face, varying his pressure and stroke to create graded shades. It was oddly captivating, seeing the ink that typically illustrates graceful bamboo shoots and Asian landscapes, now giving rise to the faces of screaming men.
In a city characterized by sprawl and social fragmentation by class, race and neighborhood, organizations like Outpost are looking for something to bridge the boundaries between groups. Art is “something where people from different backgrounds connect over a shared experience, and we don’t have enough to those where we’re actually meeting in public. I think that we [Outpost] are filling a void in the northeast side of L.A.,” said Bloom. “Everyone’s disconnected,” said Amano of artists, their peers, art enthusiasts and the community at large. She has organized open studio events for over 300 artists in the downtown area in an effort to counter this detachment and to promote awareness of the arts among the general public.
Bloom also believes that the unifying force of art is under-recognized, stating, “I
think that at the heart of Outpost is the belief that art is an uplifting part of our souls, but that doing it in public is also a great thing. That the sharing of the experience is really important, that it doesn’t need to be conducted in private.”
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