Why you should care
Because no man — or artist — is an island.
Eric Czuleger is the author of Immortal L.A. and Eternal L.A. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer, current Oxford student and the creator of the weird fiction podcast Howl.
A hippie is doing tricks on his BMX bike outside my window. That’s Ky, and from what I can tell, after three years of knowing him, his BMX bike is his only sole source of income and he may not own a shirt. I also know that he works harder doing tricks on his bike than most people do toiling away in offices. He’s an artist like all of my neighbors. Artists make and do things that can seem pointless to the outside world, so they construct their own worlds wherever they can. The warehouse where I live looks out onto an even larger warehouse. Trees grow through cutouts in the concrete. We call this part of the Brewery Art Colony The Atrium. There are other neighborhoods here that read like a list of Kurt Vonnegut titles: The Hotboxes, Theory Labs and 1984 Building, each with a character all its own. Communal living spaces cobbled together by artist legends from Burning Man camps butt up against Bauhaus stoic studios flooded with light. And of course, everywhere there is art. We live in empty boxes in a rundown part of Los Angeles so we fill them as best we can.
I first stumbled into the Brewery Art Colony (pop. 500, we think) after moving back to Los Angeles from my Peace Corps service in Albania. Nightmarish rent prices pushed my roommates and me farther east until we noticed the sculpture of an iron horse rearing outside an industrial smokestack. Curious, and sick of being made acutely aware of just how poor we were, we decided to kill some time by wandering around and looking at stuff. We pulled into the middle of the complex. It might have been the bicycle chandelier or the golden woman growing out of the tree, but, like in an ironic version The Wizard of Oz, we knew we weren’t in Silverlake anymore. A man on a BMX bike rolled past us. We asked him where we were.
If we wanted ordinary, we wouldn’t live in warehouses.
In the leasing office, there was a brief interview that consisted of one question: Are you artists? We explained that I write novels, my roommate makes music, and together we produce a podcast and perform science-fiction hip-hop shows in Los Angeles. Basically, we perform science-fiction spoken word with live music and original songs. We had a third roommate too, but he was a lawyer so we denied he existed. We waited for the person in the leasing office to decide if we were artists or not and were told to call every week to see if something opened up. I called for three months. I don’t know if I’m an artist yet, but I know that annoying persistence devoted to seemingly useless tasks brings me pretty close. That was three years ago.
Out my window, past the hippie whirling on his bike, I can see Donny’s place. Donny spent a lifetime headbanging and snapping pictures of legendary heavy metal acts like AC/DC and Metallica. I have never seen him without a black hat and sunglasses. His girlfriend is a Reiki master with a calming energy that reminds me of motivational posters emblazoned with the word tranquility. But they make sense here. If we wanted ordinary, we wouldn’t live in warehouses.
My neighbors make gigantic light-up sea horses. They design outrageous clubs in Las Vegas and paint Renaissance masterpieces. My neighbors make battle armor and create 3-D holograms on the sides of monuments. I have neighbors named Cupcake and Rabbit. My neighbors take pictures for Penthouse, shoot for Vogue, light scenes for Del Toro, and they all end up at the same bar in the middle of a cluster of warehouses in East Los Angeles. They’re covered in paint and foam and sawdust or whatever medium they’ve been working with. They drink coffee at midnight and whiskey before noon. They go back to their warehouses and work on making things. Because when you live in an art colony, all that matters is what you’re making, when it will be done and what you’ll make next. Also, if you have enough money to cover your bar tab.
Artists have a shared language, and maybe that’s why it’s easier to live in a parallel reality to the rest of the city. There is an apology for the unorthodox in all of us. We were each born with a desire to create work that not everyone wants. Sometimes that work becomes astronomically valuable. Most of the time it does not. All that matters is making things that have never been made before. A smudge of paint on a canvas. The right light for a photo shoot. A pirouette on the back wheel of a bicycle. Now when I look out my window in the Atrium into the larger warehouse, that hippie and I instantly recognize each other in our parallel reality.