Last year, we launched version 4.0 of our site with an interview with native New Yorker, urban painter, Justin Bua. Getting him to answer some questions about Los Angeles and his craft was easy, thanks to his then intern, Brian. Fast forward to December, when I received a friend request on Facebook by an entity called "Hold Up Art". Their About Me read - "Hold Up Art brings together notable Pop Urban artists working out of CA in one website and new Downtown LA gallery space. Created and curated by Brian Lee and Ben Kaufman, Hold Up Art evolves the gallery model to keep the world of art relevant." I was sold on the emphasis on California, and confirmed the request. A couple months had passed, and I learned that their gallery space would be opening soon. I messaged them, spoke of our interest in interviewing them for our e-zine, and called a meeting.
Kim and I met Brian and Ben when 358 East Second Street was still under construction. We made our introductions, had sushi, toured the Arts District together, and checked out their art collection. Some pieces were from Justin Bua, and that's when it all came full circle. Brian was Bua's intern. Since then, we've kept up on their progress and now they are days away from their grand opening. Here were two guys (USC Alums, I might add), with the gnarly vision of shifting the paradigm, of upsetting the setup, of breaking the mold. Sound familiar?
How does your gallery compare to other galleries in Los Angeles?
Hold Up Art is a re-evaluation of the contemporary LA gallery. After having seen the upswing of the downtown art scene on Gallery Row, we got fed up with the number of poor quality galleries that were in LA, and the fact that they began convincing the public that this is how a gallery is supposed to be. People just rent out a space, clip on home depot lamps to the sprinkler system and call it a gallery. And in some sense, they’re right - they’ve create a place to display art. That said, we don’t like how that’s been the driver for people's expectations about what a gallery should be. We want to create a paradigm that allows for the public to get familiar with specific artists as well as enjoy the experience of being in the gallery. Our ambiance is set by music, seating, free-wifi, and a work area.
So in your dreams, what would be the best feedback about your gallery?
comes in and faints because it blows his mind. Then he asks if he can fund us from now until eternity.
How do you decide what art you display? Must it appeal to both your tastes or are you generally open to any type of art?
Luckily both of our tastes are pretty similar so we rarely disagree about specific artists to bring into Hold Up. We stick with Pop Urban artists generally speaking, but we never really know what direction we’ll begin to push towards; we started out thinking exclusively 2/d art, however we just added an amazing sculptor we met a few days ago. If we love it, we’ll find a way to show it. Something that also plays a significant role is that we like the artist, and what he or she is trying to achieve. It's always best to promote people and ideas that resonate personally.
When you're going through that process, do you feel like you're participating in making someone's career when you decide to select an artist? Or not selecting another one? How does that feel?
You would be surprised how many people come in the gallery and immediately ask about how to get their work shown. Because of that there is a bit of "God-factor" in the decision making. But really, artists are the ones who make or break their own career. We are able to help those who are really helping themselves. It's all about taking initiative and following through.
How did you foster relationships with the artists you are currently featuring?
Brian used to work for Bua as an assistant. He’s a great guy and so much fun to work with. He stops by every once in a while and is a huge supporter of Hold Up. Often though, we just hit up artists through their websites and after hearing what we’re doing, many have been amazingly open to working together. Now with the space it’s a lot easier to invite artists to check out H.UP.A and talk about the possibilities of working together. We’ve grown so much respect for the graffiti community and their ability to collaborate - egos aside. They all feel as though they are contributing to something greater, with every tag they throw down; it’s very inspiring.
Music plays a big role in the art that you're representing - and hip hop, David flores with ODB, Jeff Jordan and Mars Volta. Is this a common integration in pop urban art?
Most definitely. The thing about pop urban art is that its fueled by Lowbrow culture, the word of the people, the masses, however you want to think about it. Ultimately a lot of that dialogue, especially in Los Angeles, is driven by the music and movies of Hollywood. It's not exclusive to that by any means, but you'd be naive to disregard the power and interplay between those artistic mediums.
Are you limiting your artists to the CA area or do you plan to broaden your artist pool?
We decided to stick exclusively with CA/LA based artists because we want to show LA what our art is really about. Los Angeles is slowly becoming the new center of American Art production with people like Brainwash, Fairey, and BUA getting major notoriety in the public space. We want to slowly expand our artist pool because if we do it too fast, we won’t give our audience the chance to truly evaluate and form an opinion on every artist we have.
Ahh, Brainwash. My favorite art show in '08 was his Life is Beautiful exhibit at the old CBS Studios. Where are your favorite spots in LA to see art?
Downtown LA is full of gems hidden from most people’s everyday life. In the arts district off of Traction Ave, there are countless decked out walls that have been living and breathing for the past decades. Every month or so, we love driving down sunset or Santa Monica to see the new walls that sprout up or get covered over. Once you begin to train your eye to pick out graffiti and wheat pastes, you end up seeing things you never have noticed before.
With that said, would you say that street art is well represented here?
Street art and styles are beginning to be represented more fully in LA as well as around the world. We are getting far enough away from the birth of graffiti to objectively look at it as an art movement, and put aside the rebellion and gang associations. It is now a living, breathing art style that reaches into the farthest depths of our popular culture, and you see this with the existence of Mid City Arts, Crewest Gallery, and 33 Thirds, just to name of few.
I'm not sure if this is something along the lines of the 'gang associations' that you mentioned, but I have a book called Graffiti LA that focuses a lot on crew names and less about graphics. Do you know why that is?
The crew names were big, and still are because when you start out tagging, you either do your name or your crew. The crews were a place where similar styled artists would work and collaborate together, share ideas and techniques, and ultimately they would take a lot of pride in their crews. In NY, where graff began, it started out as repping your street, which eventually evolved into crews. So you see guys like Take 183, and the 183 comes from his home - 183rd street. Crews began to take over that role as something to rep, as well as a social community that each writer was a part of. Even today most writers that are in crews try to incorporate their crew name in their tag somewhere. These days in LA, you'll see crews like Seeking Heaven (SH), MSK, or AWR include the simple two or three letter acronym in every tag they throw up. Some writers are more about the crew scene than others, but most writers are in crews, especially when they are coming up.
How would you compare LA street art to that of other cities?
We are firm believers that the graff world these days is working on a global level - specifically due to the ease of communication. Within LA we see hundreds of styles, techniques, and subject matters that stretch beyond the origins of graff in LA. If we had to say there was an LA style, I’d say it is very hero based. graff writers create a hero character that they try to perfect and reutilize in many different situations like Cache, Eyeone, Ewsoe, and even Mac. It’s like the brand mascot of the artist. And all of the supergraphics and public advertising just helps to validate the artists creating public art, whether its graff or wheatpaste. You can’t argue that the side of a building isn’t one of the best places to communicate or display a message when companies like Nike and Pepsi are willing to pay $50k a month for a supergraphic.
Let's learn a bit more about you guys. Are either of you artistically talented?
I don't know about talented, but we definitely dabble in visual arts, especially with stencils and collage. I guess that says all you need to know about our painting skills, or lack thereof. Musically, we've got a bit more talent and experience, but it's something that has hit the back burner since H.UP.A took over our lives.
What kind of prints would you purchase for your own home?
That all comes down to the budget. We've started a collection that includes a few limiteds - helped a lot by some gifts from a few of the artists were working with. It's a great perk of the job. But as a general rule of thumb we'd only buy something that we can live with waking up to every morning.
What do you do outside of all this?
We wouldn't be lying if we said almost nothing. We have a couple dogs, Moose is just a puppy, so we spend a lot of time at the dog park. Recently we've been spending nights at Red Lion Tavern, enjoying sausages, kraut and beer. But our serious endeavors would be HBO programming mixed with a few shots of American Idol or Top Chef...yeah, we lead a fascinating life.
We've been doing this thing on our blog called the "Top 5 Series", since we often find ourselves debating over certain topics. I'd like to bring you guys in for the fun of it. First one, name the top 5 people you'd like to have dinner with. Dead or alive.
Ben (BK): Hunter S. Thompson, Machiavelli, , Barack, and my grandfather, Bud Popham who I never really got a chance to know.
Brian (BL): a Pharoah of Egypt (really any of them), El Greco, Edgar Allan Poe, James Gandolfini, and Omar Rodriguez Lopez.
Top 5 childhood movies.
BK: Willow, Princess Bride, Sleeping Beauty, Lion King, and Star Wars.
BL: Hook, Star Wars, Terminator 2 (maybe not a children's movie but my favorite as a child), A League of their Own, and Fievel Goes West.
Top 5 daily essentials.
BK: coffee, walk with Mooseboy, checking things off the list, food, and it feels a bit alcoholic to say this, but a shot of Jameson never hurts a day.
BL: phone, keys, wallet, driving my car, listening to music in my car.
And finally, top 5 musicians you'd pick for your dream concert. Dead or alive.
BK: Mos Def, Neil Young, John Lennon, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, and John Coltrane.
BL: I'm answering this more as a top musicians to make my super band. Bill Withers or Maynard James Keenan on vocals, Paul McCartney on bass, Omar Rodriguez for song writing and guitar, Dave Grohl on Drums, and Lupe Fiasco backing everything up.
So Hold Up Art has its grand opening this Friday, March 12. How did you develop the initial idea of "This Hit's Official"? Think in terms of the artwork on the walls, the artists selected, the music, etc...
Well initially the event was going to be more of a house warming party, but as we got closer to the event and began planning all the details it evolved into an exhibition. Mostly things fell into place naturally - we just added Codak to our roster of artists. He agreed to paint a mural on our store columns. And a close friend and up and coming DJ, Eron Surdam agreed to provide music.
What does hold up art hope to do for Little Tokyo? How about for Los Angeles?
We want to make the artists we work with household names. We want to get people to formulate opinions about artists, and pick styles and subject matter that appeals to them. We want art in LA to be at the same level as movies and music. We hope to increase the relevancy of art in the everyday life of a Los Angeleno.
After our initial meeting with Brian and Ben, we described them as refreshing. It's as if we met new friends. But more importantly, we referred to Hold Up Art as that because we finally had a spot in LA that was unpretentious, a spot the truly catered to a new generation, a spot that didn't forget about the little people. We can't wait to see what the gallery becomes; it's only a matter of time. For now, please visit the space and please be there for their grand opening on Friday, March 12, 2010. Believe me, you won't regret it.
Hold Up Art is located on 358 East Second Street in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.