Flower Pepper in Old Pasadena is “aggressively looking to stay positioned as this area’s source of art for years to come.” Ambitious goal. Big dream. But to open an art gallery, as well as living the life of an artist, one must dream big.
The gallery is also part book store with tomes on art and design, and part artsy-products store, selling Eat Like a Queen desert plates, a New York Times A5 embossed workbook, Pepopanda plushes, a Happy Hot Dog wall clock, and laser cut Made by White earrings, bobby pins, necklaces, and studs.
What initially brought Flower Pepper to our attention was Daniel Rolnik who is the curator of their new exhibit The Season of Spring. He writes, “I believe there is a wonderful connection between a work of art and the artist (who) created it. So, I have traveled the globe to put together this all-star group of artists with positive attitudes, happy hearts, and beautiful images that I can’t wait for you to see! YAY!!!”
“YAY!!!” seems to be Mr. Rolnik’s enthusiastic calling card and how can one resist such unadulterated joy and enthusiasm? It may grate a bit on a Friday afternoon when one’s exhausted from a hectic week on the home front, an excessive week at work, and a sig alert has just be announced on the 1070 AM the second one merges onto the 101 Freeway. Then again, initially questionable, subsequently histrionic, and ultimately infectious, maybe Rolnik’s “YAY!!!” is just what we need instead of a fourth Red Bull or another triple grande latte.
Rolnik sent us images of various works of art, but they were nothing like what we expected when we step into the gallery-slash-store. The long, white wall to the left as we enter is filled with row after row of works of art that are exactly the same size, every one enclosed in a 9 x 12-inch cellophane envelope, two binder clips attaching them to one of the four tacked-and-stretched black ropes.
We introduce ourselves to Rolnik and see him light up, jump up, and leap into an extended explanation of his show, which he is clearly so excited about he can hardly contain himself. Yay!!!
He hands us an elaborate trading card that has his headshot, name and the headline “The World’s Most Adorable Art Critic, Daniel Rolnik.” In actuality, he writes for “twenty or more” art blogs because, he tells us, they “don’t pay a lot,” so you have to “write for a lot.” We found articles by Daniel in the L.A. Weekly online blog, ARTslant, Bulkka, Notes on Looking, and ReverseResult. He travels the country and even overseas attending art shows where he meets artists, hands out his trading card, and communicates with his over 9,000 followers via Twitter and Instagram. If he’s traveling to Arkansas, he’ll tweet, “I’m headed to AK. Anyone know any artists in the area?” Et violà. “It’s so rad,” he says.
Rolnik explains that he wanted to have a show where work by street artists hung alongside those works by artists that sell for thousands of dollars in a gallery. He began with a cardboard envelope…
…and mailed every artist who agreed to participate 2 pieces of quality paper. He had no theme, no preference for medium. He asked for original pieces and for artists to hide a surprise for the fan who buys their piece. (So on the face the cellophane packets show the primary art piece, and only once someone has made a purchase will the surprise, that’s hidden behind, be revealed; stickers, mini paintings, woodcuts, and toy dinosaurs, for example).
Unsurprisingly, several artists ignored the pieces of paper enclosed and created what they were impelled to create, so the show has bread sculpture people by Robert Fontenot; resin figures by the art collaborative Salão Coboi in Portugal; a whole book from Kevin Russ; Time Machine by Jason Bammer that’s made from antique hardware, “salvaged” leather, and velvet; a cement portrait by Haunted Euth; and even a sports nutrition VHS tape sitting in a pile of spicy Cheetos.
Rolnik eagerly pointed out work from Altadena native and pop surrealist Liz McGrath and is thrilled to have My New Friend Spring by the sarcastic, humorous, and satirical Bob Dob and Color Me 2 by Huseyin Sami who he met in a Highbrow art gallery in Sydney. On the other end of the spectrum, street art is represented by GATS who U.C. Berkeley professor Greg Niemeyer has compared the Oakland artist “to Michelangelo for being ‘a foundational artist who teaches us about seeing the world in a different way’” (EastBayExpress).
Kirsten Anderson of BoingBoing writes that Anthony Ausgang has been “celebrated as a pioneer of Lowbrow” art, which she describes as “an underground art movement associated with those outre interests (swing dancing, tattoo culture, and tiki/retro lounge; kitschy counterculture pastimes) and born in Southern California…catapulted into view.” Ausgang has contributed two pieces—Two Many Cats and A Nice Ending.
Sixty to seventy percent of the 140 artists participating in the exhibit are locals, Rolnik says, and Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design is well represented with works by teachers Mark Todd (above) and Esther Pearl Watson, as well as by their students Jesse Tise, Janeer Mirez, Bradford Lynn and Erin Burrell.
Kevin Russ is a photographer that has 90,000 pictures on Instagram, only shoots with his iPhone, travels the country, lives in his car, and sells digital prints online to pay for tangerines bought at Costco and the mortgage on his house back in Portland. The Season of Spring is his first exhibit.
Apolinário tells Beautiful Decay that Salão Coboi is “a mutant collective” of artists like him (co-founder and sculptor), photographers elder Macedo and Sara Martins, and wood sculptor Rui Abibe.
Rolnik just met and wrote in ARTslant about an evening spent with a slew of artists in Santa Barbara—he would never have guessed that S.B. had an underground art scene—many of whom have work in the exhibit, like Kimberly Hahn and her husband James Van Arsdale, Laura Krifka, and Ethan Turbin.
Turbin creates photo collages, 3-dimensional images, and digital prints, on of which Elizabeth Schwyzer of the Santa Barbara Independent describes as “a dizzying digital print of colored dots (that) resolves into an iceberg only when viewed from a distance—a metaphor for the necessity of a long view when it comes to climate change.” Last year, his “Bee Cell: A Video Environment” he created with Jonathan PJ Smith was installed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Toby Goodshank (HuffingtonPost) is a musician who started with the band The Moldy Peaches with Adam Green and Kimya Dawson. Their song Anyone Else But You was featured on the film Juno with Michael Cera and Ellen Page. Lead singer Adam Green and Goodshank are good friends with Macaulay Culkin’s who has a Velvet Underground-themed band named Pizza Underground. In late 2012, Culkin, Green, and Goodshank created their own art collective dubbed 3MB and had their first art exhibit in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Bruce Lee Webb, artist and collector of antiques at Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas, contributed Forget Not the Dead.
Liz McGrath‘s sculptures and dioramas “find the strange beauty in the grotesqueries of life.…Inspired by the relationship between the natural world and the detritus of consumer culture…(a) melancholy interaction between man-made status symbols and suffering specimens of nature….”
Flower Pepper Gallery, 121 Union Street at the corner of Raymond Ave., Pasadena 91103. Hours: Mon.-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Flower-Pepper.com. The Season of Spring exhibit runs through Friday, April 4th.
Panel Discussion: Saturday, March 15th, 1 p.m. RSVP (to determine number of chairs) on the event’s Facebook page.
Rolnik was kind enough to answer a few questions:
HP: The panel discussion will be on the future of art in Los Angeles, correct?
DR: Yes, the panel discussion will be about the future of art in Los Angeles and I am excited because each panelist represents a different art world, since there isn’t just one. The art world is actually a vast and open universe. For example, everything in the show I’ve curated at Flower Pepper Gallery ranges from $20 – $200 and you can walk a few blocks down the street to see works that are worth over $20,000,000 at The Norton Simon Museum. Those are two different worlds of art and they are both wonderful and exciting.
HP: How and why were the panelists chosen? What do they individually bring to the table?
DR: I chose the panelists to represent a full spectrum of the art world. So there is a journalist, a Facebook poster, a historian, an editor, and a blogger. They all have totally different tastes and opinions. For me, it’s exciting to bring people together who wouldn’t normally interact. It’s like listening to the radio. How often do you just stay on one station? Never! Art is the same way. It’s not just one station, with one style of music. Sometimes you want to listen to classic rock and sometimes you want to listen to classical. Sometimes you want to listen to country and sometimes you want to listen to rap.
Editor’s Note: The panelists are Coagula Curatorial gallery owner and art zine Coagula publisher Mat Gleason; Marlene Picard; Khoi Nguyen; Professor of Art History Jim Daichendt; and Literary Director, Editor-in-Chief, writer, and blogger A. Moret.
In the world of art sometimes you want to see something that’s huge and totally unobtainable and sometimes you want to see a $20 poster that you can take home with you and staple to your wall. They are both the best! And it’s one of my goals in life to bring art to the attention of (the) general public in an entertaining way.
HP: Who gave you the moniker of The World’s Most Adorable Art Critic? How did you become an art critic? Are you an artist as well?
DR: I started out as LA’s most adorable art critic and then through a series of debates across the globe it was unanimously decided that I was to become the world’s most adorable art critic. It’s quite a title to keep up and while it’s also a silly one, it gives me access to artists in a totally unique way. When I show up to an artist’s studio now, they don’t feel pressure from me because they think I’m adorable and happy. So while it got on my nerves to be called adorable in the beginning, I’ve really embraced it now.
You could refer to me as a wild artist. I mean, I’m not an outsider and I’m not an insider, I’m just a bearded boy that makes art from whatever is around me. Whether that’s a social situation or a painting, it’s all beautiful and exciting and it’s all art.
Curator Daniel Rolnik