Ventura County's Support-Local Program

Home Is Where The Art Is

Red Brick Gallery and Jennifer Livia show us – again – that Art is a community affair

Phyllis Gubins and Jennifer Livia of Red Brick Gallery. Photo by James Scolari.

If one intends to move in the art world, the veritable ‘thick of things” is a good place to be; and in an age where Art Walk has gone private and the ArtScene at large subject to wild reinvention, the thick of things looks more and more like the spot where Jennifer Livia lives. With her Red Brick Gallery prominently situated on Main Street in the heart of downtown Ventura, hers is a presence in the community that’s impossible to overlook. She’s the winner of a 2008 Mayor’s Arts Award, an experienced photographer, prolific painter, and athlete with a taste for outdoor adventure.

It’s no secret that hard economic times can frequently sound the death knell for art endeavors of all sorts, and independent galleries are no exception. Grants dry up, municipal coffers grow dusty, and the intrepid curator is faced with the prospect of fancy footwork on the high wire of solvency, up there all alone and without a net. The only way to avoid a fall is to get very lucky or very creative.

Red Brick Gallery is a splendid example of just how creative the union between art and commerce can be. As any small business-person knows, downtown real estate isn’t cheap, so unless a proprietor is independently wealthy, a steady revenue stream represents a do-or-die imperative. For an art gallery, that means rampant creativity and a will to adapt to the prevailing traffic – ethics that are fully in play at Red Brick, where arts patrons can take home art for as little as a few dollars, or as much as a few thousand, can take a class on a variety of art styles, or can simply take part in an events outlook where art is always the headliner.

This weekend the events ethic takes center stage at Red Brick, for the return of their groundbreaking Paint Ventura,a plein air art explosion that was a runaway success last Spring. The brainchild of Livia and her partner and mother Phyllis Gubins, Paint Ventura debuted in April and brought scores of artists to publicly ply their skills in the open air of downtown Ventura.

This time around, Paint Ventura opens Friday night, September 9th with a “Paint Out and Arty Party,” a kick-off event styled as a fundraiser for the Ventura Education Partnership. The public is invited to watch as fifteen Paint Ventura artists begin work on pieces at Red Brick Gallery. Saturday the 10th will find Paint Ventura in full swing, with one hundred-plus artists be creating plein air pieces along Main and California Streets in downtown Ventura. Totally Local VC has stepped up to assist with the effort, sponsoring and hosting a PopUp Gallery in downtown Ventura’s Mini Park, and featuring the blend of Art, Music and community that is the centerpiece of our mission.

Paint Ventura continues on Sunday, with a variety of workshops, including acrylic painting, 3-D mobile making and more. See www.PaintVentura.com for more details and to sign up. Sunday continues at the WAV (Working Artists Ventura); twenty-five of the ground-breaking community’s studio lofts will be open to invite visitors to meet the artists and to enjoy viewing visual arts in private studios. From 5:00 to 7:00 PM there will be a lineup of easy listening music at the WÃV Theater Gallery, which will give way to a lineup of rock bands that evening, until ten PM. The day – and the event – promises to immerse visitors in the arts of all types and styles.

Totally Local VC spent a few minutes visiting with Livia recently as she wrangled the many details of the ambitious slate:

TLVC: One of the things that struck me the first time I visited your gallery is the creative way you marry art and commerce – which must be wed, of course, or none of this is possible. When push comes to shove, if you’re going to have a life in the arts, your life in the arts must to sustain you.

JL: Yes. I mean, it’s challenging; a lot more challenging now than when it first opened.

TLVC: There’s a lot of that going around.

JL: When things get tough we sit down and regroup and say, “Okay, what can we do different? What else can we do? How can we change? What do we need to focus on? What’s working? What’s not working?”

We really take it from a business standpoint and say, “Okay, let’s be creative in our business.” And yes, this is our business and we have to make money or else we can’t keep our doors open next month, so let’s see what else we can do that’s going to work.

We started offering classes two years ago, and that really has helped. The challenge right now is that no one has extra disposable income. If you can’t give them something to put on their wall that’s pretty, you can give them an experience and enrich them.

TLVC: Help them to better integrate art into themselves, if not their homes. Love that.

JL: It’s great. That’s really what classes have been helping push. And then Paint Ventura came up because we wanted to create an event. We wanted something that would be like Art Walk, in terms of people, but be different than what the city did.

TLVC: Now the second installment is nearly upon us.

JL: Yes! Friday night a group of local artists will be creating local pieces within a time span; I’m thinking two hours. I just think that the sheer number of that many artists creating in the same place would be really interesting. Have it feel like a big party, have food, just throw open the doors, everybody’s welcome. Saturday will be like what we did last time, where it’s outside in front of all the businesses all up and down Main Street and California.

TLVC: The ArtScene, expressed in community: a community of artists, meeting the community at large, all mingled into something everyone can share. Love it. Art party, and everyone’s invited.

JL: I hate to call it a party, because that can be such a loaded word… we want for the people to have fun, artists and spectators alike; just a fun, approachable event. That’s the biggest thing I got, with the first Paint Ventura – that so many people came up and said they loved it because they got to watch the artist work and that the artists were so approachable and they could ask questions and they felt comfortable – which I think is the hardest thing with art because so many people put it up on a pedestal, like “It’s the finished project, it’s perfect, it’s this, it’s that, it’s the other.”

I mean there’s so many different kinds of galleries. It would be wonderful if we could all be the high-end galleries that they have in downtown San Francisco, that I used to go to and go “Wow, this is amazing!” But in reality, it’s not my style.

TLVC: What you’re doing with Red Brick is very exciting – not stuck on formulas, going with what works, getting rid of what doesn’t. It’s diverse, it’s welcoming and it’s clear to see that something’s happening here.

JL: There’s so much to learn along the way. There’s no manual for it. You have to be willing to learn. I remember our first show was a kind of organic combination of things. I called it “Brick-By-Brick” because I literally built the whole gallery. I didn’t know many people so I had to meet someone through someone else through someone else through someone else and eventually we had the walls covered but it took a few weeks.

And we learned to serve the organic process. It flows. WE change our show every six to eight weeks. It’s fresh.

TLVC: Alongside that curatorial ethic, I see you in here creating, turning art into products, expressing your own art, guiding others as they’re working their own. Doesn’t seem like there’s grass growing under any feet in here.

JL: I definitely think my art has evolved leaps and bounds since I started this. I see how I’ve changed and how I’ve really enjoyed changing, just being influenced by so much art. Just seeing so much art. Getting new submissions every day, just seeing the richness of art. We all kind of learn from each other.

TLVC: I used to confuse galleries with museums. You walked in and you looked at art and you enjoyed it and you thought about it and you walked out with nothing in your hands. I think that’s a misapprehension that lots of ordinary people share. They might not realize that they can be touched by a piece of art and take it home and continue to be touched by it. You seem to be bridging that gap.

JL: I definitely think so. I think most of my collectors are just average people. I have this one lady who owns six of my pieces. She tells her friends when she brings them in, “This is Jen! Her works are on my wall! I’m one of her collectors.” To me that’s just so sweet.

TLVC: Everyone’s home is a gallery, more or less. That’s kind of the point of a conversation like this, is to open people’s eyes to the idea that they’re welcome here. Come and see art, no one’s going to tackle you; and guess what? You might find something to take home with you.

JL: There’s a gallery in town that didn’t last very long – every time I walked in, even though they knew me, they still pounced. I think people just enjoy lingering and doing what they do. If it feels like it’s going to fit in your house as a part of your life, than that’s it.

TLVC: Yes, it can’t just fit on your wall. It’s got to fit in you.

JL: That’s good art, at least. It has a relationship to the world it’s in.

TLVC: Your own relationship with art seems to play out in many forms.

JL: I paint five days a week, even if it’s just at night. I love it, it makes me feel better. If I’m in a bad mood, I usually get better by painting. Because you’re creating; doing something different than just watching TV and being lazy.

TLVC: Time shouldn’t be that disposable. There’s so many ways to dilute yourself or your energy.

JL: We used to have internet at home. Because I do graphic design too, I’d bring my computer home at the end of the day and work on stuff online. We had it six months when we opened first, and I said “We need to free focus. I don’t want to have to spend all day working and then come home to work more.” So we don’t have internet at home anymore, I don’t even bring my computer home.

TLVC: How splendid. That’s a revolutionary statement.
JL: You lose track of too much time. You just get consumed.

TLVC: You’ve brought together quite a stable of talent under one roof with this gallery.

JL: We use the term “our art family”. It’s become the people we’ve been with for a very long time. Jim Martin, he’s been with me since the very beginning.

TLVC: He’s a great photographer. Truly.

JL: But his work is different that the work I do, different than the work you do. Everyone can have their own moments of brilliance.

TLVC: Well said.

JL: When I went to art school, it was such a challenge, because you put your heart and soul up on the wall. You take your pictures and you spend 30 hours developing them and then you put them up on the wall for the class to talk about. Some weeks you feel real good about yourself and some weeks I go home and cry. And it totally beats you up.

TLVC: None of it might even be a valid statement about your art.

JL: But I definitely think that this helped me with this, because the average person doesn’t realize that this piece is a piece of my soul. They say, “Oh my god, that’s so ugly” and you have to not internalize it. Even when it’s someone else’s piece of work, it reflects on me because I chose it. I’ll be, “Hey, that’s my family! Don’t talk bad about my family!”

TLVC: Where did you go to school?

JL: San Francisco art institute; that’s where I went to grad school. Then I went to FDIM for graphic design, because I could hold down a real job with my Arts Masters program.

TLVC: Would you say you have a job now?

JL: I’d say I have a child now. The gallery is more like a child than a job, because you have to care for it and nurture it, you have to be here for it. Even when I’m not here, I’m still thinking about it.

Red Brick Gallery presents Paint Ventura, this weekend, September 9-11. For more information, log on to www.PaintVentura.com, or www.RedBrickArt.com, or stop by the Gallery at 315 E. Main Street, Ventura. (805) 643-6400.
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Learn more about author James Scolari

James Scolari

About the author

James Scolari is a writer and photographer. Though his seedling sprouted in other soil, after transplanting to the Gold Coast it has flourished and bears fruit in Ventura throughout the seasons. Late of local print journalism, Scolari edits TLVC content for publication and offers odds and ends from his own pen. He's also a staffer and advocate for Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, and teaches his own brand of image-making in the ongoing Mind's Eye photo workshops. Check out his website at www.JamesScolari.com.

 

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