There’s something telling about setting and art, and not in the sense of whether a painting depicts a countryside, a dimly lit street or a somber bar.
When viewed at a museum, the valuable pieces behind the felt guard rail, glaring Plexiglas and invisible security system tend to inspire a stuffy form of etiquette. Art that requires a ticket is often experienced with strangers or a misunderstood protocol for how to “take it in.” Even worse, no drinks or snacks.
Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking news alerts delivered right to your inbox.
But art without any aspirations – the sketch stuck under a stacks of books, the oil painting propped against a stereo speaker, the demo recording burned on a 10-cent blank CD – demands nothing.
On Friday night, this art moved off its owners’ nightstands, shelves and drawers and into a stranger’s living room. In an attempt to showcase female artists in Santa Clarita, the Living Room Emporium in Canyon Country opened its doors to Proxart, a group of young adults dedicated to enriching and exposing art in suburbia.
Proxart formed in 2008, at first featuring primarily Santa Clarita artists and musicians through its website and quarterly magazine. Soon rounding up a staff of eight members, the collective began promoting small concerts at locales such as the American Legion and Antioch Community Church.
“Ladies Night at the Living Room,” however, was Proxart’s first attempt to feature artists and musicians together, said Zach Hill, the visual arts editor.
Hill said the Living Room Emporium was a perfect location for what Proxart was trying to accomplish.
“I immediately fell in love with the place – just the environment and the space,” he said. “We just started putting our list together and started recruiting from there.”
At first listed as a public event with a ticket limit of 25, the members decided to add more due to the overwhelming demand.
“We first reacted with a little bit of anxiety, to be honest,” said Hill. “The original idea of the ticket limit was to add a bit of exclusivity to the event – some extra value that we’re featuring special artists and musicians.”
Breaking from the norm, the owners of the Living Room went after Proxart, the promoter, to put something together at their store.
“We approached them and said, ‘We know you do events. We’d like you to do an event here.’ Then they came and looked at it and decided they would do it,” said Jeannie Sutton, who co-owns the store Martha Michael.
Browsing around the Living Room Emporium is like remembering Grandma’s house – if Grandma’s house was the size of an elementary school bungalow. Homemade tapestry, humble furniture and outdated kitchenware occupy ever nook, cranny and wall space. Quirky, weird, antique, charming, cute and neat are the only words to describe it.
Actually, add musical to that slipstream of words.
Throughout the evening, people unwittingly sat on a sofa and ottoman owned by Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson. The whole atmosphere, warmed by the homely undertones and ukulele overtones, is the exact setting Proxart seeks to inhabit.
“I think going to events like this, I’m starting to get more of a sense of the area’s art community. There’s a lot more going around here than I first thought,” said Lila Burns, a CalArts student who treated the diverse gathering to a half-hour set of music on her ukulele.
Ticket counts aren’t the only judge of Proxart’s growth. Hill said the blog’s web traffic has risen at a striking rate.
“We started noticing about six to eight months ago that artists – prolific artists – were contacting us rather than the other way around. It’s just blown my mind the amount of hits we’re getting in a month,” said Hill. “It’s only growing and getting better.”
Once only updating its website sporadically, the group now tries to post a new article on a daily basis, leaving website editor Gianna Hughes with the challenging task of tackling an eclectic plate of content, from artist profiles, to musical analysis to cultural critiques.
They’re an intellectual bunch – Hughes graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in literature – but exactly the kind one wants running the show for the community’s fledgling artists looking for outlets different than the ones in their bedrooms.
“We’re very proud of our community. We don’t say, ‘We’re from Los Angeles.’ We say, ‘We are from Santa Clarita, a suburb of Los Angeles.’ We’re happy to be here – we’re happy to be based out of here,” said Hill.
Friday’s event was just another step in the group’s public display of affection for Santa Clarita’s arts community, albeit a small one.
“There’s a lot of great talent out here that’s worth being exposed.”
Photos by Phil Long. In order: Lila Burns plays ukulele; crowd; painting by Deanna Adona; painting by Alma Juarez.