“I’m a thing-maker,” says artist Dave Lovejoy of Lovejoy Art. “Some turn out to be art, some just things,” he admits. Though all, he continues “are continuations of a thought.”
Several weeks ago, we found ourselves immersed in an interview that spanned several hours over two days, initially at the 1907 California Craftsman home Lovejoy shares with his wife and boys in Pasadena, and then at his shop located on the second story mezzanine that looks down onto the great room that constitutes The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
The first thing that one sees upon climbing the stairs to the mezzanine—perhaps “confronted with” is a better expression—is an open 6-foot high harp case (without the top lid) that is positioned on pointe, leaning hard to the left, appearing on the verge of toppling. Shelves have been built into the harp case interior and crammed with hardcover books with strong, colorful spines, while over a dozen books are spread-eagle, in the process of “flying” out. It’s like Dr. Seuss meets M.C. Escher.
This tableau in a nook at the top of the stairs continues with a large desk off to the side, a garbage can overflowing with crumbled-up and discarded examples of writer’s block, an old clock hanging askew on the wall.
This is one of the 12 installations that Lovejoy has throughout the bookstore’s premises.
Though Lovejoy’s career was primarily as a graphic designer, his interest in art goes back to a “great” teacher he had in high school, Roland Sylwester. Sylwester “taught everything” and painted in “that style like Bob Ross—here’s how to apply the brush to do trees, birds…” The class had a kick wheel and kiln, and Roland was a puppeteer. He would make puppet hands during class, only working with the materials that he had in hand.
Lovejoy learned to use the kick wheel and found that the work—throwing pots, vases, etcetera—was meditative. He honed his craft. Eventually, he says, he “could throw better alone, with my eyes closed.” The experience was “completely tactile, therapeutic.”
Many years later, when he and his family moved back to the area after a one and a half year stint in Salem, Oregon, Lovejoy (now a full-time artist) made good use of Roland’s example. His kiln initially en route and then, upon arrival, found to be too demanding of the existing power supply (which eventually was resolved), Lovejoy was “waiting for serendipity.”
He met Ramon Ramirez who introduced him to Ben McGinty, owner of the late Gallery at the End of the World. Lovejoy visited. He re-visited. He and Ben, Lovejoy says, “were like two long-lost brothers, restarting a conversation started in another life.”
The gallery, setting, and atmosphere was truly bohemian, the art organic. The artists ranged in age, the work in style. People worked with glass and silver. They carved wood, did photography and silk-screening. Lovejoy was inspired.
In his garage-turned-studio, Lovejoy has boxes of clocks, lamps, and sculptural pieces….
Dozens of lidded containers are labeled, stacked floor-to-ceiling, and crammed with ceramic pieces, miscellaneous toy parts, wood tool handles, cardboard and books, bulbs and bottles, and even doll molds and mouse trap rollers.
He’s always on the lookout for interesting elements; one time coming across an abandoned foosball table—he removed just the men. He has a collection of rondels, louvers, “rusty parts,” and “odds & ends.” With all of these elements at hand, Lovejoy went to work. And, he adds, “I had a lot of fun.”
Lovejoy’s “box” art is a direct nod to and respectful acknowledgment of artist Josheph Cornell’s boxes. With his simple, usually glass-fronted boxes, Cornell (1903-72) was said to “combine the formal austerity of Constructivism with the lively fantasy of Surrealism” (ibiblio.org). “He could create poetry from the commonplace…relying on the Surrealist technique of irrational juxtaposition and on the evocation of nostalgia.”
Lovejoy says that he creates the Cornell-type boxes “to find out what’s on the other side artistically.”
Different people began to notice and “like” Lovejoy’s work. He began exhibiting, initially in downtown L.A., which led to him setting up a space for the Downtown Art Walk every second Thursday of the month. Then Josh Spencer created The Last Bookstore and Lovejoy approached him, asking if he could display his work within the store. Spencer agreed and it’s easy to see that Lovejoy is like a kid in a candy store. He can’t not create. Ideas seem to be on a perpetual wave and he has to keep finding new ways to express and manifest his imaginings.
About a year after The Last Bookstore opened, Spencer expanded to the second story and the owner of the building, Paul Su, created the shops along the mezzanine. Stepping into Lovejoy Art is a sensation in and of itself. The ceiling is relatively low and the space is a very, very small L-shape with windows on the south and east sides looking down onto the constant pedestrian and vehicular traffic below, the noise somewhat muted. Any free space on the floor, shelves, and walls is taken or covered with assemblages.
Many of the pieces start with a simple wooden picture frame, such as one where the original owner wrote “top” on the backside. Lovejoy made the back of the frame the front of his assemblage, adding an “S” tile from, perhaps, a Scrabble game. Stop became the title of the piece and once that first element was thought of and manifested, he contemplated the open space within the frame. With his work, Lovejoy says, he “goes where the composition leads.”
He considers art “an action trying to stir.” He concedes that there may be a message—societal, political, or even aesthetically, but “at the core,” he says, “I want people to smile.”
And smile they shall.
We had no idea of time flying by or our meter running out as we had to stop at every piece, ask questions, peer inside and around, and wait for a demonstration. Many of Lovejoy’s works have moving parts…
…secret nooks concealing treasures…
…some even play notes…
…and music. His re-imagined piano is a site to behold and hear….
Lovejoy’s work is whimsical, intriguing, nostalgic, lovely, fun, meticulous, and thoughtful.
Lovejoy’s assemblages are open to the world, the public, and the elements, as well as roaming hands and indeterminate mindsets. One piece has been made out of an old 7-sectioned wooden brick mold. At one time he’d acquired what appeared to be a lifetime of photos; a young girl growing and maturing, exemplified by yearly school photos. Lovejoy positioned the brick mold vertically and a photo was inserted into each space, then he let his instincts drive the rest of the work. Once the piece was finished, he hung it in the main hall of The Last Bookstore.
At one point, he stopped to see it and noticed that the sixth picture had been removed. He was pissed. He almost wanted to take it down, remove it from the premises, remove it from prying hands and an ungrateful audience. But Lovejoy resisted. He turned away. Turned his back. But eventually, he had to return. Had to face his distaste.
He found more meddling.
But not in a way Lovejoy could have anticipated. This time, someone had left something. A photocopied picture of a young woman had been tucked into the pilfered 6th space….
Had the initial photo thief returned? Had someone seen the original, then noticed the empty space and felt compelled to fill it? Was the woman in the new photo the same woman or someone entirely different? Had the placement of the new image been planned or was the action arbitrary and indiscriminate? Whatever the answers, Lovejoy realized that this was as it should be; an original assemblage of old parts and new, of people’s memories and histories, a work that had stood alone as an artist’s statement, manifesting the artist’s ideas and vision, had become a give and take, interactive, attracting “new” old parts, someone’s else’s essential person, memories, and history. Lovejoy had begun the creative process, and then the discussion he’d begun continued.
It’s enough to make ya smile.
Lovejoy Art, Spring Arts Tower, 453 S. Spring St. (at corner of W. 5th St.), Mezzanine Studio M3, L.A. Hours vary; call for times. 213.392.2611. LovejoyArt.com.
Thursday, May 8th, is the monthly L.A. Downtown Art Walk. It’s a free, self-guided event involving many of the galleries primarily on Spring and Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets. Over 12 hours, noon to midnight, visit the continuing transforming downtown L.A. landscape and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Dave and Lovejoy Art welcomes everyone to drop by….
On Sunday, June 1st, Lovejoy will be a part of Altadena’s Open Studio Tour, 30 artists exhibiting and selling their work at 12 different locations, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Four stores and eight studios including Lovejoy’s will be open to the public. Lovejoy will be joined at his studio by sculptor Carl Heinz and “The Succulent Gardener” David Apodaca. For complete details, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Lovejoy Creative Services, 1000 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena 91104. Contact: LovejoyArt@gmail.com or call 213.392.2611.