Shared Los Angeles Studios Nurture Emerging Artists

LOS ANGELES — Their dogs play together among the cloths, drop cloths and spray cans. They jostle in cars on road trips to each other’s far-flung exhibitions. They sometimes share paint supplies.

In an art world that is often competitive, the painters who have come to share a studio in the Boyle Heights neighborhood represent an unusual model of how artists can nurture and support one another.

“I used to feel disconnected from other artists,” said Alfonso Gonzalez Jr., one of the studio’s tenants. “Then I met these guys. They get it.”

Over the past few years, Gonzalez, Mario Ayala, Devin Reynolds, Rafa Esparza and Sonya Sombreuil, and others—mostly in their thirties—have made their way into a nondescript warehouse space here on South Anderson Street by the Los Angeles River.

Their Boyle Heights studio, which has become a destination for galleries (and thus complaints of gentrification), partly reflects the energy of a new generation of Mexican-American artists.

“Something big is happening in the culture that is now surfacing,” said gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, who has featured many of the studio’s artists. “LA is predominantly Latino, so it’s going to be more and more influential.”

Although they each rent workspaces of different sizes and have different painting styles, the artists move easily in and out of each other’s studios, talking and offering advice when asked.

“It helps with all the stress, just being able to share the space,” says Reynolds, whose dreamy mural-like paintings combine images and text. “I am grateful to be here now with so many people who are pushing the boundaries with their painting.”

Several of the performers were recently featured on Deitch’s acclaimed Los Angeles show “Shattered Glass” as well as the recent “Made in LA† 2020” Biennial at the Hammer and the Huntington Museums.

For ‘Made in LA’ for example, Ayala focused on the underground magazine, “Teen Angels,” which documented cholo street culture in the late 20th century, featuring artwork, photos, and essays by gang-affiliated or incarcerated Chicanos.

“Shattered Glass” included two Ayala paintings on the back of pickup trucks, images with a flying saucer, a cactus, dice and the barrel of a gun.

“I’m not just looking for individual talent — I’m looking for artists’ communities,” says Deitch, a longtime gallery owner. “If you go back to the early modernism and beyond, almost always the artistic innovators are part of communities – from Matisse, Picasso and Braque to the Surrealists to the Abstract Expressionists.

“It goes way beyond a conventional studio, where it’s just an artist working on paintings,” Deitch continued. “They walk through each other’s studios, they advertise each other.”

The artists have common sign painting, graffiti, airbrush techniques, truck stops and lowrider car culture. They share an interest in music, fashion and skateboarding. They paint their families, friends and neighborhoods – the people and places that shaped them.

Ayala’s father is a truck driver. Gonzalez’s father is a billboard painter. Reynolds’ father worked on a fishing boat. That heritage is repeatedly reflected in their work.

Gonzalez has painted beauty salons and barber shops. “I see these as landscapes,” he said. “I’m interested in how the community is changing. I wanted to paint people who felt familiar.”

Gonzalez said he got tired of painting signs and started learning about artists on YouTube, especially being inspired by Cy Twombly and Ed Ruscha. “A Rothko would remind me of a big graffiti buff brand,” he said. “As long as I could afford my rent and art supplies, I was making art.”

In 2020, Gonzalez joined the Boyle Heights studio, where he said he pays about $2,000 a month, a pretty reasonable price. rent. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve put back into this,” he said.

Rafa Esparza, whose work on handmade adobe bricks — a skill he learned from his father — was recently featured on Mass MOCAhas to go through Ayala’s studio to get to his own – “Daily check-ins,” he said, which enable “a unique conversation about our work.”

Some in the group have formal art training, including Ayala, who graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2014 and entered the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture the same year, and Reynolds, who received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Tulane University. in 2017.

“He creates this fusion between traditional and industrial painting techniques,” Deitch said, “between the old masters and the car boys.”

Some artists have gallery representation. (Matthew Brown recently took on Gonzalez; Kordansky Gallery took on Ayala.)

“Alfonso sees aspects of the LA landscape that we often overlook,” Brown said, “and uses them to build his own visual language that feels both familiar and completely new.”

Their paintings sell for relatively modest sums – Reynolds’ paper drawings for about $2,500; his paintings go for a maximum of about $65,000. Gonzalez said he charges $10,000 to $50,000.

“I see a lot of people’s markets skyrocket,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not worried about the money, I’m worried about where it will be placed and that I can do this for the rest of my life.”

They do everything they can to get to each other’s exhibitions; they traveled to Ayala’s Show with Henry Gunderson at Ever Gold [Projects] gallery in San Francisco last summer and plan to attend Ayala’s show at Deitch’s gallery in New York in September.

Last August, Gonzalez and his partner, Diana Yesenia Alvarado, put together a two-day pop-up show, “City too hot”, featuring some of the artists currently working in Southern California. Gonzalez had his first solo exhibition at Matthew Brown in February. Reynolds’s Show at the Palm Springs Art Museum opened April 22.

For Made in LA, Sombreuil created a gallery, a performance space, a music venue, a screening room and a showcase displaying her own limited edition merchandise. (She runs the fashion label) Come Tees.She said the Boyle Heights studio has helped her reconnect with her roots as an artist. “It’s a cross-fertilization of ideas,” Sombreuil said, “and a flow of traffic that benefits everyone.”

That stream of traffic includes Sombreuil’s brother, Noah, a cabinet maker, and Fulton Leroy Washington (known as Mr. Wash), who began painting while serving time for a nonviolent drug offense and was also featured in the Hammer Biennale, as well as “Shattered Glass.” Working in the studio has allowed Washington to create a large canvas that he would not have been able to fit into his apartment workspace and to connect with other artists.

“Since I’m in prison, I haven’t had the experience to deal with so much talent,” he said. “Art is complementary to art. It’s really inspiring.”

The camaraderie comes through on their canvases. There’s a genuine humanity to what they make, unlike the wink commentary from artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Marcel Duchamp. “There is no irony in this work,” Deitch said. “It represents a very important shift in the way a younger generation approaches art.

“Because of a culture of seeing the world on an iPhone screen, there is a deep desire to get back to something connected to real life,” he added. “The work of all these artists is connected to real life.”


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