By: Daina Solomon
It’s a perfect Saturday night at Oxy, looking out over the twinkling city from the cool, dark grass of Stewie Beach. But as lovely as it is to enjoy the sparkle of Los Angeles from the Occidental Campus, it’s time to hit the streets.
Fun has many faces on this fall night: concerts, street festivals, museum openings, lectures, new restaurants, book fairs, clubs and sporting events, but what is happening right down the hill from Oxy?
It’s the NELA Art Walk! NELA, of course, is our neighborhood; Northeast Los Angeles is the community that includes Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Garvanza, Hermon, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills and Mt. Washington.
On the second Saturday evening of every month, the NELA Art Walk highlights the art in our local community. This being L.A., the Art Walk is more of an “art drive.” Perhaps NELA will eventually add a shuttle that loops among the galleries like they do for the Downtown Art Walk. Until then, visitors must either drive or focus their gallery-hopping to a small area of Eagle Rock and Highland Park. Remember that the Art Walk is only a teaser: it’s not possible to appreciate all of NELA’s amazing galleries in one night, but even a small sample of the galleries’ offerings makes for a spectacular evening.
As a new Oxy student myself, the NELA Art Walk was on the top of my list of “must—do” outings. After a sandwich at The Oinkster and a Mayan Mocha coffee at Swork, I hit the galleries. First was Jose Vera Fine Art and Antiques at 2012 Colorado Blvd., specializing in Mexican, Chicano, Latin American, European and American art. They also display and sell decorative arts from the Mission and Spanish Revival periods, Art Deco and the American Arts and Crafts movement.
The current exhibit honors Hispanic Heritage Month. Some of the works, by artist Joe Bravo, were actually painted on tortillas. The tiles, pottery and architectural pieces led my imagination to Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, where similar pieces might be displayed. A Mexican festival atmosphere prevailed where patrons greeted one another with smiles, hugs and laughter, clearly delighted to be among art-loving friends on a Saturday night.
Another fiesta was in progress at Cactus Gallery on 4534 Eagle Rock Blvd. The owners are Argentinean and the gallery specializes in handicrafts specific to their country such as bombillas for drinking yerba mate tea. This was the opening night of an “All Latina Show,” also in honor of Latino Heritage Month, which displayed Latina artists’ jewelry, paintings, sculptures and more. I especially loved the art of Argentinean Patricia Krebs. She uses paper, clay, found objects, dismantled objects and natural elements to create a bizarre effect in her little dioramas called “Animas in the Matrix.”
The party at Cactus rocked to the electronic, funky sounds of L.A.’s own DJ Chee-bo who kept people stepping lively from room to room. Outside of the gallery on Eagle Rock Blvd., a cluster of children ran in circles around a contained bonfire, adding to the funky, family, party feeling that emanated from the crowd inside.
My next stop was the Future Studio on 5558 N. Figueroa Blvd. Chicken Boy himself, rising to his 22-foot fiberglass glory on top of the building, greeted me. Chicken Boy reigns as a one-of-a-kind, kitschy, pop culture icon of the Eastside. He is known as the “Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles” and “too tall to live, too weird to die.”
The gallery owner, known as “Chicken Boy’s Mom,” rescued Chicken Boy from the trash heap after the Chicken Boy fast-food restaurant on Broadway closed. The Future Studio’s gift shop is devoted to Chicken-Boy paraphernalia. The gallery’s exhibits were enjoyable and celebrated the quirky and unusual.
I ended the tour at IMIX Bookstore (pronounced eee-MEESH) at 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd. IMIX features a spacious gallery behind its rows of mainly Latino-themed books.
Saturday was the opening of a mural exhibit by members of the “Trust Your Struggle” collective. The exhibit showcased murals that serve not only as visual art but also as a cultural exchange and political education. The colors, characters and symbols of the graffiti-like mural were vibrant. The DJ’s Latino set created an energetic atmosphere for the lively groups of friends socializing with the mural as a backdrop.
Out in the cool night air, it was time to reflect on NELA’s art world. The art community here opened its arms wide, revealing tortillas, oil paints, enormous chickens, books, murals, music and more. The Art Walk left me ready for more NELA adventures. Next Saturday night in October, I know there will be more to discover.
Read more about the NELA Art Walk and galleries at http://www.nelaart.com .
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