Bringing Cool, Color and Care to An Expanding Art Community
We first met Eve Kemp when he strode into the Wellington Square Farmers market dressed in striking high style. Friendly and engaging we soon found out he was an artist who had recently moved into one of a series of storefront art studios in the Washington and Rimpau neighborhood in Mid-City.
Exceptionally community minded, Eve immediately began connecting to the neighborhood by energizing the visuals of his block. He added large decorative signage, installed beautiful wooden doors and open windows that displayed his exuberant paintings and allowed people to look into a studio filled with artwork and artifacts. One imagines this is what a Paris atelier in the 1920’s may have looked like.
TNN: How did you discover our community?
EVE: I was invited to an event in Beverly Hills that invited business owners to look at footage of super charities and consider which ones they wanted to participate in and I was the artist that was asked to come and be a part of it. I was there with another friend of mine and this couple seemed to take notice and commented on how I looked. He said, "Hey, I'm working on a project and maybe you could come and take a look at it." I said, "Why don’t you come and see what I'm doing as well."
He drove down to South Central, came to my place and he said, "Look, this is exactly what I was hoping for. I bought a building, [s.w. corner of Washington and Harcourt] and would you come in and take a look at it," and I said, "Okay." I came over and took a look at it and that was this building. I discovered Mid-City at that point really. It was always an area I just drove through.
TNN: That’s an issue with our community.
EVE: It's very much the issue. I realized I was one of those people who would always travel through it and not quite notice what was here. So right away when I came here I had that in the back of my mind and realized maybe I could add something to the community. I thought the building had character from the '20s and it would be great to have the French doors and even to expose the wood beams. My original idea was "Hey, this could be the Chelsea Hotel in New York.” and thought “this is it." Then I discovered that there were great artists who have been living here for 12, 13, 15 years.
TNN: Like Charles Garabedian, who has been here much longer than that.
EVE: Yes. I was like, "Wow," and across the road there's one of the biggest designers in Los Angeles. I got to know Bert across the street, who has been here 15 years or something, another painter. The filmmakers were over here Saturday night in the corner building and they were doing a major film shoot. I'm also next door to the mothership of Washington Boulevard as far as I'm concerned, which is the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. One of the major photographers of Casting is directly across from there. This whole area already has artists and it has 4 galleries. I thought "this is a goldmine and something is happening here and I like to think that I could come in and help give it feathers." My version of me to me is I'm a peacock. The peacock can’t help what its feathers are and I thought I could just spread my wings and help give it feathers and maybe more people would understand the beauty of this city.
TNN: Tell me about what happened the other day. [Saturday, Jan.11]
EVE: The uncle on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air passed. I had met really close friends of his the night before and it came to my attention that they were having an honorary memorial for the actor at the Nate Holden Theater. They said they were all going to be over here, including people like Queen Latifah. This was going to be a big event so I opened my doors, as I normally do on Saturday and by 2:00, there were literally 400 people [at the event] and the street was flooded and immediately after the memorial, people started to flood in here. Then across the road the fashion designer was casting for her show so all the casting people came over. Then 3 doors down a new gallery was opening. That event had been promoted by the guys in the building, who are from MOCA and LACMA. Then old friends came by because there had been a bunch of openings in Culver City and they were on their way to an opening in Chinatown and stopped here when they saw what was happening.
TNN: Wow! Very exciting.
EVE: It was very exciting to see our blocks crowded, people walking, lights are lit up, everyone was lit up and it was a really wonderful Saturday.
TNN: When the artists move in things really start happening. Our community has been struggling to become a destination for people, not just a drive through community. So it's very exciting to hear about this event and this art community. Let me ask you a little bit about your art work. What's your background as an artist?
EVE: Basically, I'm self-taught. My experience has been by travel and living in cultures. I used a lot of recycled materials. I began by taking nothing and turning it into something. A few years ago I met an art historian, John Onians a professor at the University of East Anglia in the UK, who wrote about my work and described it as human expressionism because what I paint is my everyday experience. I don’t document the bad of our society. I pretty much document what is a real experience for me. Every painting in here pretty much has a one-on-one real experience with my life . I'm a 21st century artist so I don’t have the experience of the cotton field. I don’t have the experience of slavery. I don’t have the experience of police pulling guns and throwing me on the ground, that’s not my life story. My life story is traveling to Europe with $9 in my pocket. My life story is being at peace with a tree as a kid that was my best friend, a tree in my backyard so I have a relationship to nature. Those are big parts of my story, real individuals, real living things. That’s where using recycled materials and things like that and actually living in cultures is an expression of my work. Sometimes it’s as a simple as a tree because that was the deepest experience of that time and I find it really important that no matter what I do as a painter I have some real experience in relation to it.
TNN: How long have you been painting?
EVE: Right now, I could say it's been about 22 years. I had no idea that painting would overtake my life as it has. When I discovered this, I was coming out of the music industry and it was a self-expression of writing poetry and drawing and painting. I can remember very clearly when I discovered a moment of, "Oh, hey. This is cool. This is something I could do when I'm 65," that was pretty much it. I had no other ambitions about it or what it might be. For me, painting became a life force. I learned along the way that wow it was less chaotic. I had more peace and clarity. I thought more about my community. I thought more about how I could help humanity when I painted and so that became a big part of life.
I think art is really a healing. I have a true experience of a 15-year-old coming in here last week. She's come by a couple of times. She came in. She's very, very low and I said to her, "I know you've been dreaming of being an artist. Have you been painting," and she said, "No." I said, "Why not?" She said, "I'm really confused right now. I'm thinking about suicide."
Then I sat down with her and I said, "Look, here's the first thing we need to do before we even have a word." I put out some envelopes, I put out some paint, I threw it on the floor and I said, "We're going to paint while we talk." She started to paint and we started to talk and I learned some of her life experience of this has been and issues in her life that have never been really dealt with. The parents just wanted to cover it. I said, "No. You have to learn how to express this and you can put it in your work."
TNN: Have you seen her since?
EVE: She's passed by here every day for the last couple of weeks, smiling and telling me about the new painting she has done and the things she's doing. To me that’s why I'm here. I believe that’s why we're here, I do. Some of us, we forget that but at the end of the day the artists are here to liberate, to tell people to show them the freedom and the hope of tomorrow. Everything that I do now here, my doors are being opened, are for the community to dream again. I go out, I sweep the roads, I pick up the trash. I painted this building white. Everybody told me, "What are you doing?" I put flowers around the edges of it. You see it all around the building. They said, "They're going to kill those flowers." Guess what, my building is not tagged. It's white. I said, "I don’t care. If they tag it, I'll repaint it," but nobody is tagging my building. Nobody is killing the flowers.
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.