Industrial. Maze-like. Colorful. Zany. Worn. Comfortable. Uncomfortable. Electric. Magical. Home.
That’s how long-time Brewery Art Colony resident Wini Brewer describes the vibe at The Brewery Art Colony. And she should know a little something about the vibe of what she calls “a village.” The talented painter of abstracts on wood panels that juxtapose figurative elements against black and white graphics has lived at the thriving colony almost since its inception in 1982.
When The Brewery Art Colony once again opens its doors and its studios to the public for the bi-annual Brewery ArtWalk, a reliably large crowd of non-resident artists, art enthusiasts ,and casual onlookers will not just see a lot of great art and eat some good food, they will get a unique peek into what just might be the largest live-work artist colony in the world.
However, for Wini Brewer and the roughly 500 artists who live there, The Brewery is not just a live-work studio space, it is a way of life. Wini and her husband photographer Bill Leigh Brewer have moved three times within sprawling complex since they first arrived in 1984. She described the initial decision to live at The Brewery as transition that meant
a deeper and more public commitment to being artists. Taking it seriously. A life choice. A lifestyle choice.
That sense of openness and a willingness to expose one’s artistic process to a large community is echoed by Kristine Schomaker, a public relations guru for the colony’s artists as well as a new media artist, performance artist and painter. She likens the colony to being in
grad school again just because there is always someone around who can offer advice, help or even critique. You go to Barbara’s (the colony’s own restaurant & bar) and you run into your friends all the time.
“Running into friends” sounds odd until the size and scope of The Brewery are put into perspective.
Since Carlson Industries first purchased the site of the old Eastside and Pabst Blue Ribbon breweries in 1980, the complex has grown and evolved from what originally was planned as a mixture of businesses and live-work spaces into the full 18-acre colony of working artists on the edge of downtown L.A., just off Interstate 5 at the Main Street exit.
The uniqueness of The Brewery may just be its unparalleled size and the extraordinarily wide scope of artists living in the bustling community. As Teale Hatheway—a mixed-media painter of deconstructed paintings of familiar places who was commissioned for a Coachella insallation—puts it:
This property is too big and its residents too diverse to make sweeping generalizations of any of it.
A seven year resident of The Brewery, Teale emphasizes the diversity and community of artists, some of whom
are not artists in the traditional sense.
That may be the key to the long-running success of both the colony at its twice-yearly ArtWalk events, which not only feature a wide array of artists, styles and media, but also highlights what Teale refers to as the magnetic appeal of the
property as a neighborhood environment.
The ArtWalk is as much open house and as it gallery show. Or, more to the point, it is itself a two-day exercise in community performance art that stokes the creativity of both residents and visitors, affords artists a chance to their show art to significantly larger audience than most galleries command, and generates a sense of community linked by the act of experiencing art. And it is a great recruiting tool for future artists in residence.
Kristine Schomaker attended her first ArtWalk in 1998
after my painting instructor told us about it. She lives there and mentioned the ArtWalk. I went…and knew I wanted to be a part of the community. It took me 13 years to finally be able to move to the Brewery and I believe I will live here the rest of my life.
For Teale Hatheway, the ArtWalk gives her an opportunity to
take better control of my art career by building my own audience. My work has been described as ‘fringe,’ which means whatever I can do to not depend on gallery representation and to find my own market, I will do. Brewery ArtWalks have been pivotal in this process. The democratic nature of ArtWalk attendees also provides an unusual opportunity to get diverse feedback about the work you are showing.
Unlike traditional gallery shows, the ArtWalk grants direct access to the creative process, allowing the public to meet artists and engage with their art in the environment where the art was created. The ArtWalk event reflects the ongoing communal process that inspires Kristine Schomaker:
I can walk outside my door and someone is shooting photos or painting or filming.
That free-flowing, highly-interactive environment is what Wini Brewer enjoys most about ArtWalks. She welcomes visitors and loves
their questions and enthusiasm. I particularly enjoy young children because of their sense of wonder. Attempting to see the Brewery through their eyes, I can only imagine that it is a very strange, colorful, magical place. I truly believe that bringing a child to a place like the Brewery can make a lifelong impression on them. Crawling on a paint spattered floor as a small child altered my life forever. As an adult I searched and found my own painted floor at the Brewery. When children visit my studio I wonder if one of them will carry the memory for the rest of their life.
For two-time Brewery resident and reputed “ArtWalk Nazi” Mat Gleason, now the owner of the avant-garde gallery, Coagula Curatorial in Chinatown, the key to his time as President of the Board of Directors was to ensure that the focus remained on the art and artists, and that it not devolve into a street fair. In the process he picked up his colorful moniker, but, according to Mat, he
helped make sure it was an art event and not a live music event, or a theater event–there are many venues where all that can happen in LA but only the Brewery had the unique status to provide a visual art experience directly with visual artists.
Despite the emergence of other large art shows, Mat, who describes his art as “stirring the pot” and touts the fact that he
didn’t get killed while doing my art amidst the community there
believes the ArtWalk still retains the
same interesting experience you cannot get anywhere else in Southern California or most anywhere.
Mat—who lived at the colony from 1995-97 and 1999-2007—reflected on what he enjoyed most about ArtWalks:
I liked the fact that the Brewery ArtWalks increased the Brewery’s name recognition so I know I got many internet dates specifically so the chick could say ‘I dated a guy at the Brewery.’ But to be serious, I enjoyed the variety of people whose careers would be transformed by participating in the ArtWalk.
Transformation might be the word that best typifies the Brewery—from its post-Industrial makeover into working community of artists to the creative process each artist experiences as part of their life there to the interactive process that occurs twice a year at the ArtWalk.
Teale Hatheway thrives on the creativity:
The units are flexible and the neighbors are resourceful. I regularly reach out to my neighbors for brain-storming, advice, an extra set of eyes, work barters, job opportunities, geeking out on color theory, dinner and cocktails, etc. There is no part of an artist’s life that is not part of their creative process.
Wini Brewer revels in the community:
There’s an atmosphere—an energy—at the Brewery that bolsters your own creative energy. Artists need artists. Just like it is easier to do Yoga in a class, or meditation in a group, then it is to do them home alone, it’s easier to paint when you are surrounded by other painters!
For Kristine Schomaker, current President of the ArtWalk Association, it is the evolution of the 18-acre lot into a neighborhood:
It always reminds me of the Cedar Street bar in New York or even the cafés in turn of the century Paris where artists would gather and talk about art, life, politics and anything else you can think of.
And for the indefatigable Mat Gleason, the appeal of living at the Brewery was a bit more direct:
It was that or Skid Row.
The Brewery ArtWalk is this April 26 & 27 from 11am to 6pm. Admission and parking for the ArtWalk are both free to the public and the event offers a rare opportunity to explore one of SoCal’s—and perhaps the nation’s—liveliest and largest “artist-in-residence” communities.
Me and My Art series by Foto Matt