LOS ANGELES — Their dogs play together among webs, drop cloths and spray cans. They pile into cars on road trips to the faraway exhibits from each other. They sometimes share painting supplies.
In an often competitive art world, 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 each other.
“Before, I didn’t feel connected with other artists,” said Alfonso Gonzalez Jr., one of the studio’s tenants. “Then I met these guys. They get it.
Over the past two years, Gonzalez, Mario Ayala, Devin Reynolds, Rafa Esparza and Sonya Sombreuil and others – mostly in their thirties – have found their way to a nondescript warehouse here on South Anderson Street near the Los River. Angeles.
Their studio in Boyle Heights, which has become a destination for galleries (and therefore complaints about gentrification), partly reflects the energy emanating from a new generation of Mexican-American artists.
“Something big is happening in the culture that is now coming to the surface,” said gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, who showed many artists from the studio. “LA is predominantly Latino, so it’s going to have more and more influence.”
Although they each rent different sized workspaces and have different painting styles, the artists easily walk in and out of each other’s studios, chat, offer advice when called upon.
“It helps with all the stress, just being able to share the space,” said Reynolds, whose dreamy murals combine images and text. “I’m grateful to be here now with so many people pushing the envelope with their painting.”
Several of the artists recently participated in Deitch’s acclaimed “Shattered Glass” exhibition in Los Angeles as well as the recent biennial “Made in LA 2020” at the Hammer and Huntington museums.
For “Made in LA,” for example, Ayala focused on the underground magazine “Teen Angels,” which documented cholo culture in the late 20th century, featuring artwork, photography, and essays by Chicanos. gang-affiliated or incarcerated.
“Shattered Glass” included two paintings of Ayala in the back of pickup trucks, images of a flying saucer, a cactus, dice, and the barrel of a gun.
“I’m not just looking for individual talent — I’m looking for communities of artists,” said longtime gallerist Deitch. “If you go back to early Modernism and beyond, almost always artistic innovators are part of communities – from Matisse, Picasso and Braque to the Surrealists to the Abstract Expressionists.
“It’s something way beyond a conventional studio, where it’s just an artist working on paintings,” Deitch continued. “They walk around each other’s studios, they promote each other.”
The artists have in common sign painting, graffiti, airbrushing 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. This heritage appears repeatedly in their work.
Gonzalez painted beauty salons and barbershops. “I see them as landscapes,” he said. “I’m interested in how the community changes. I wanted to paint people who felt familiar.
Gonzalez said he was tired of painting signs and began discovering artists on YouTube, taking particular inspiration from Cy Twombly and Ed Ruscha. “A Rothko would remind me of a great brand of graffiti buffs,” he said. “As long as I could afford my rent and my art supplies, I was making art.”
In 2020, Gonzalez joined studio Boyle Heights, where he said he pays around $2,000 a month, a pretty reasonable amount. lease. “Everything I did, I reinvested,” he said.
Rafa Esparza, whose work on handmade adobe bricks – a skill he learned from his father – was recently showcased at Mass MOCA, has to go through Ayala’s studio to get to his – “daily check-ins,” he said, that allow “a unique conversation about our work.”
Some members of the group received a formal art education, including Ayala, who graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2014 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture the same year, and Reynolds, who earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Tulane University in 2017.
“He creates this fusion between traditional and industrial painting techniques,” Deitch said, “between the old masters and the automotive guys.”
Some artists are represented in galleries. (Matthew Brown recently hired Gonzalez; Kordansky Gallery hired Ayala.)
“Alfonso notices aspects of the Los Angeles landscape that we often overlook,” Brown said, “and uses them to construct his own visual language that feels both familiar and completely new.”
Their paintings sell for relatively modest figures – Reynolds’ drawings on paper, for around $2,500; his paintings cost around $65,000. Gonzalez said he charged between $10,000 and $50,000.
“I see a lot of people’s markets are skyrocketing,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t care about the money, I care about where it’s put and being able to have it for the rest of my life.”
They go out of their way to get to each other’s exhibits; they went to Ayala’s show with Henry Gunderson at Ever Gold [Projects] gallery in San Francisco last summer and plan to attend Ayala’s exhibition at Deitch’s New York gallery in September.
Last August, Gonzalez and his partner, Diana Yesenia Alvarado, hosted a two-day pop-up show, “City Too Hot,” featuring some of the artists currently working in Southern California. Gonzalez had his first solo show at Matthew Brown in February. Reynolds’ exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum opened on April 22.
For Made in LA, Sombreuil created a gallery, performance space, concert hall, screening room, and showcase with its own limited-edition products. (She runs the fashion brand Come Tees.) She said the Boyle Heights studio helped her reconnect with her roots as an artist. “It’s a cross-pollination of ideas,” Sombreuil said, “and a flow of traffic that benefits everyone.”
This traffic flow includes Sombreuil’s brother Noah, a furniture maker, and Fulton Leroy Washington (known as Mr. Wash), who began painting while serving time for a related nonviolent offense. to drugs and has also been featured in the Hammer Biennial, as well as in “Shattered Glass”. The studio work allowed Washington to prepare a large canvas that he could not fit in his apartment workspace and to bond with other artists.
“Being in prison, I didn’t have the experience of being surrounded by so much talent,” he said. “Art complements art. It’s really inspiring.
The camaraderie shines through on their canvases. There’s a real humanity to what they do, unlike the winking commentary of artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Marcel Duchamp. “There is no irony in this work,” Deitch said. “This represents a very significant change in the way a younger generation approaches art.
“Because of a culture of seeing the world on an iPhone screen, there’s this deep desire to get back to something that’s connected to real life,” he added. “The work of all these artists is connected to real life.”