I began my career as an Artist in Venice, California in
1973. The first person I met was a film student named Nick Pasquariello who
informed me that a small studio on Speedway and Clubhouse Street was available.
Nick made a film about
me as his Masters thesis. My gallery was a
few doors down at the corner of Boardwalk right across from the nude beach. What
a summer. It was like living in the middle of a carnival. What is carnival life
like? Belly dancers, snake charmers, drummers, parades, musicians on the
Boardwalk and rock bands playing on top of the buildings – all along the nude
beach reaching up to Santa Monica. As amazing and inspiring as all this was I
knew I needed a bigger studio, a real artist’s studio.
After a year of looking for a studio I found one.
It was not in Venice, as I had wanted, but in Santa Monica. Still it was on the
Boardwalk and that was good. At first I was unhappy about not being in Venice – I had wanted to
be in that artist’s colony not here all by myself. Every day I roller skated
down to Venice and started doing watercolors of the scene until one day I
realized – pay attention to where you are now instead of looking at what
“could have been”.
I started paying attention to all of the little details
around me, and started on a series of work inspired by Norman Rockwell.
I wanted to show the pier and some of the activity on the Boardwalk, which I love so
with me, and I will show you what it was like in Santa Monica in the late 1970’s.
This is the sign that greets travelers as they enter Santa Monica Beach. I came here from Chicago on Route 66, 50 years ago. Since then much has changed
in what was then a sleepy little beach town, but basically Santa Monica has remained the same.
Walking down the pier, I could hardly wait to see what would happen to me on this new venture. Venice was alive with vibrant activity and Santa Monica was quiet - I had to look for subjects to paint, and decided to focus on my own neighborhood.
This is what the pier looked like in 1977. There were many activities up there - skee ball, carnival booths, bumper cars, restaurants, an open air fish market just like in San Francisco. There was a little restaurant on the end of the pier where I ate breakfast almost every morning. I could watch the seals on the rocks, the people fishing, and boats coming and going. My
two sons, David and Steve, would go fishing at 3:00 am with the "old guys", and then spend all their money in the arcade on skee ball. It was a pleasant beach life .
People spend many lazy days on the beach. Our lifeguards stand watch and their towers have become an icon of our beach. Here surfers are getting ready to brave the waves.
This is the view from the top of the bluffs, showing our Carousel building with it's Merry-go-Round, complete with wooden horses and chariots. My building is the cream colored one, right between the trees and the Carousel, to the right in the picture. The Boardwalk runs between the two structures.
Infinity Studio is between the pizza place and Cricket's Chicken. Why is it so small? Well, the back is actually much bigger than the front. As is the case in Venice, artist's studios are mostly hidden spaces. There was debris in front of the merry-go-round, which was right outside my door. Apart from these few eateries the street was barren then, no outdoor cafes, no activity, just decay all around. My artist's nature kicked in, and I knew I had to do something about it. I spent most of my time painting in the back of the studio. I used the front of the Studio as a gallery. Anthony White, my manager and I, would sit in the gallery playing chess and selling watercolors to those stopping by. I painted and he sold. Everything I painted he sold. I did 250 watercolors in that series, some of which make up this retrospective.
This is the north side of my block showing some of the people who lived here at the time - Dennis, the manager, Bill and Blackie, who took care of our building. They are standing in front of the Carousel Cafe on the corner, which made fresh, hand dipped chocolate covered bananas, fresh candy caramel apples dipped in any topping of your choice, and freshly spun cotton candy. The café was run by an old circus couple who made these
delicacies. The merry-go-round calliope was playing all day and night. The horses went around, we ate all this sugar, and I gained 30 pounds. That was my first year here.
This is the other side of my studio. My friend Adrienne Prober, painted the mural on the skate rental. The building next to that had been a hologram installation a few years back but was now occupied by Dan and Susan, who ran something of a "head shop" that sold interesting paraphernalia for the chemically interested. Dan had a beard down to his knees, and he tucked it into his overalls so it would not flop around in the wind. Next to Dan was Big Dean's
Bar And Grill, owned by David and Stan. Next to that was the bicycle rental place, owned by Tom and Carol. Upstairs is the Outlook Hotel, a series of small sleeping quarters. In the painting, Lee ,from upstairs, is seen talking to two beautiful women. It was a community - very New York
Big Dean's is a local Boardwalk hangout which serves beer and football to it's many fans. People are regulars there, as it has a long history and is one of our featured attractions. And down the way
is Hot Dog on a Stick. The owner told me that he had wanted to create a take-out restaurant that served only one product, and one drink - hot dogs and
lemonade. He then went on to set up more than 100 little stores like this one, and became a millionaire. Of course he is gone now, but his family still runs the enterprise. I have two commissioned watercolors of the store in their corporate offices, and this painting is inside Big
Lee, in the baseball hat, was a young screenwriter and musician who lived upstairs, and is pointing out our street to this outrageous lady with the big boobs. I could not resist painting her.
We had wonderful policemen on our street, and still do. They become members of the community and come down on their bicycles, wearing shorts during the summer. Sometimes they ride great big horses down the boardwalk, and are everywhere in sight. Thank God for our police force.
When I moved to this studio I fell in love with the merry-go-round. Looking out my front window I saw it falling apart but still working. The building was worn out and broken, windows out, but the horses kept going around and in front was a big hole filled with garbage and old wood. In those days a calliope played all day and half of the night. It was a sound that sustained us - it was like living in the middle of a circus. The city put a wood covered fence around this space, as they prepared for renovation, so people would not fall in. The minute I saw an empty wall I knew I had to paint on it. So I painted an underwater scene as a background, and invited passing children to paint under-sea life on it.
This is the finished mural with skaters passing in front and my friend Steve standing in front. What a wonderful scene to see when I now opened my front door.
The skate shop had a few love buggies for rent which replaced the trams that used to run down the boardwalk. We would take these buggies and go down to Venice. I took that trip one day when the Hare Krishna festival was here. Their festivals would have live elephants leading the flower covered wagons.
I used this painting of the two boys, but in black silhouette, and the love buggy as an
image for my first show of these watercolors.
Here is a typical summer scene at the beach - a beautiful girt eating a hot dog on a stick.
It is called a corn dog because the hot dog is dipped in corn batter and deep
fried. Summer, children, food - I painted it all.
People loved to pose for me, and this little girl and I did a complete series of her in and around the pier. She was a child model, and needed material for her portfolio. I painted a number of images of her in different scenes - this one is with her favorite lion up in the amusement park.
And here she is, under the pier. We love to walk under the pier and as a matter of act, I take my senior watercolor students down under the pier to paint the rippling waves. It is always cool under the pier - people used to live under there in days gone by.
Dogs also loved to pose for me. This is one is named Bagel the beagle.
Being in my studio, in this location, has made me super aware of the sky and the sun and moon traveling across the sky. I noticed that the sun moved on a path, and at certain times of the year, the setting sun would shine right through one of the carousel windows. Stone Henge has nothing on us. My friends are sitting on the bench but I could hardly see them for the light - so after I got the sky and the light and the sun in the painting it did not seem necessary to paint them in. This painting is somewhat of an abstraction, which I like to do. I let the viewer fill in the images to their own liking.
The motion picture industry loves to film on our beach. The settings have an unreal presence.
This one was painted as a night image, with the light coming through the doors from the film lights. The horses are standing motionless, waiting for the children the next day.
Why are there so many people in the parking lot in front of The Georgian Hotel.
It was a retirement home for woman. A documentary film called "The women of the
Georgian" showed what life here was like. Across the street they played bocce ball, looked through the
telescope in the senior recreation center and played cards. None of this
explained the crowd.
This is the event that caused the huge crowds the day I painted the Georgian Hotel. Bob Dornan, a very conservative political candidate, came down to the beach complete with a man in a gorilla costume. They set up speakers all over the place and gave their political talks. I could not resist.
With all of the human activity in and around the pier, the pier can still be a quiet, lonely place. This scene was painted early in the morning when flocks of birds enter the sky, all in one group, and fly around as if they are one organism. I like the desolation and privacy of these early morning hours.
Fishermen sit on the pier's benches, looking out at the water, meditating on who knows what. Perhaps they travel to other places across the waves in their imagination.
And people come here when they are feeling a little down to talk to God and perhaps release some of their frustrations.
Our Pier was washed out in 1983, and this poignant image remained as a reminder of the fury. It has all been rebuilt now, better than ever. This painting is a testament to the idea that we will survive.
This restaurant is called Moby's Dock - Perhaps the most popular of this series - You tell me why - Could it perhaps be the name?
The Seacastle was a magnificent building. It was destroyed in the big earthquake in
1984 then was burned to the ground by unknown people who were living in the condemned building.
It was then rebuilt, but without all of the Art Deco ornaments.
A surfer, sailor, carpenter friend of mine commissioned me to paint the house he was living in - the white house
in between the small beach rooms on the south, and Nicheren Shosho on the north. Today, million dollar condos line the sidewalk, with one of the best beach views in the city. The Marion Davies estate was rebuilt just down the road, and Perry has a string of skate / bicycle rental shops on this beachfront. I am currently getting ready to paint this area again, with it's many changes.
A nice couple, Tad and Laura, came down here from Northern California, and wanted to document their stay here on the beach. This one was painted in 2002 - the only one in this group that is current and not
historical. I continue to paint this technique. I photographed them in many locations, and then put together somewhat of a composite of the feelings they have for our beach - the sky, pier, palm trees, sand and, of course, our bike path.
I ran this beach for 12 years with my fitness trainer, King, and his daughter Coco. Running
the "silver triangle" (the wet sand where the waves come up) was a difficult
thing but it taught me consistency, moderation, dedication and focus. King told me that he was preparing me for a long healthy life and he was correct. Of all the things I have accomplished in life, this running was one of the best.
I live and work in my studio, on the beach, on the Boardwalk and
love it. I hope to remain here for the next 25 years, still painting the activities on the
Boardwalk and around the pier.
I am getting ready to produce the next series of historic watercolors which will be
called "Santa Monica and Venice Today, 2010" and let you see the changes and
the things that remain "the way it was".