May 30th, 2011 | Interviews

photo by Richard Hayden

I recently caught up with Kristen Christian as she prepared for the June 4th grand opening at her brand new gallery space, Le Spec, sitting just west of Silverlake. Le Spec Gallery, a large 2,000 square foot structure with a great potential for growth, is opening Saturday night with live painted models by the artists featured in the show, including L.A. RECORD illustrator, Champoy Hate. She spoke with me about her goals in creating a space that interacts with the local community, and focuses on empowering artists and giving them a fair deal. This interview by Walt! Gorecki.

Tell me about the 3D glasses you use as an icon for the space.
We had actual pairs made that will be in the swag bag giveaways for opening night. The first hundred people in the door who check in to Facebook with their phones will get their free bag of goodies, not just from Le Spec. The 3D glasses came from looking at a simple idea that would convey that Le Spec Gallery is going to be a fresh perspective on the art world, and will be keeping the majority of the retail profits in the hands of the artists.
Who are you working with on this first show with the live models?

My makeup artist is going to be Ana Laverde, her specialty is special effects, zombie makeup, monster makeup typically. She and I met today and are scheming evilly for the September show. We have some pretty killer ideas in mind for what we want to do, that one’s called “Feast of the Flesh,” it’s being billed as a macabre exploration of humanity and the human form.
Is that going to have a fashion base then?
It won’t be fashion based but there will be live models involved. It’s going to be very . . . surprising. When it happens everyone will know it, and they’ll never be the same again.
I see you have an upstairs loft area.

I do have an office up there, it’s really great, for the grand opening it’ll be a space where the models can be painted and have some privacy, and a space for the photographers to do their portraiture.
It’s nice to find a space with a loft area.

Not only just the loft, but to have a storefront that is separate from the main gallery. I will display art in the storefront, but to be able to close it off for events so that people have to come through the calm quiet of the storefront in order to get to the event is just incredible.
So do you have a lot of retail activity planned?

I do actually, we have T-shirts of my stencil designs, printed through 7Lightning bolt, in addition we’ll be selling the glasses, the stickers, the buttons, and we’ve been coordinating with local bands. I’d ideally like to have no more than 5 local bands who have local presses and carry their t-shirts and their vinyl. So far I’ve had some really good feedback.
Which bands are you working with?

I’m still in negotiation with some of the bands. A band was in here the other day for a photo shoot with famed rock photographer Lisa Johnson. They came in and were like, “We love this, too bad you can’t have bands,” and that’s the catch I can’t have bands; I essentially can’t have anything with drums.
You have AdamantiumMC, Adam Weiss, who coordinates Hipsters who Heart Hip-Hop, performing at the opening, so that will be more of a DJ set-up?

It will be a DJ set-up, and he’s looking to also do a Hipsters Who Heart Hip-Hop show, which usually does include bands but he’s catering the event for the space. Stuff like that, basically as long as it doesn’t have drums we’re good. After speaking to the folks from Echo Curio, they said “We’d hate to see you lose your space, we’d hate to see you go the way of the Curio, don’t do live bands.” Also I didn’t want to remove my focus from the art and everything else to get the permit. But I do have other new exciting events here. Sound.WAVs, currently at Ronin Gallery, who are performing at the grand opening, will be moving here after the event.
How did you connect with Adam and everyone else?

I’ve just been so fortunate, since I moved to LA a year ago, just meeting all the right people. After meeting Adam I began hanging out with him at the Hipsters Who Heart Hip Hop radio shows and I met lots of people through there.
So you’d been over to Malo Funhouse for the “Only for the Open Minded” radio broadcasts then?

Yeah, which is how I actually met Champ as well, so I was really excited to bring him on board for the June show, and very pleased to learn that he has experience in body painting, so he was already comfortable doing that.
What’s your artistic background? I know you do “traditional stencil art,” what does that entail?

It means I don’t use computers everything is drawn by hand. I say traditional because I take a nod from Blek Le Rat, the first stencil artist, and he drew his stencils by hand. He never felt the need to get computers involved, and I work the same way, the only way computers come into play is to change the size of the stencil. I have a very good friend in San Luis Obispo, Jeff Claassen of Claassen Gallery, he’s also the person who taught me how to cut stencils. Now I’ve been doing stencils for just over 5 years.
You were living in
San Luis Obispo?
I was, and I’d always looked up to this street artist—he’s in my July show, Nic Rodriguez. He put up some of the most amazing murals in San Luis Obispo when I was younger and I admired his bravado, putting up his artwork for the entire world to see. So Jeff introduced me to him and also to Stenzskull. Stenzskull does stencils that, while he is computer based, I tell him on a regular basis that he does work that makes me want to give up the art of stencils. He does like 20 layer stencils that look like portraits.
And the August show afterward is another group show?

The August show is another group show, entitled “Viva Los Angeles,” and it’s a take on the Vegas mantra as a testament to the gamble of living in the “City of Angels.” Many of us come here with a car full of stuff and a dream and you either make it big or you hit rock bottom.
Sometimes you can do both.

So I have some really incredible artists who are already on board for that. I do scout all the artists myself, I don’t like to work with art dealers if I can avoid it, just because I seek these people out on my own so I don’t feel that it’s fair for someone to take 50% of what is the artist’s. My main goal here is putting as much of the money in the hands of the artists as possible, if there’s an art dealer involved that defeats the purpose.
You mentioned your goal of community involvement. How has your interaction been thus far?
I’ve got the local Senior Lead Officer from the LAPD on board, he knows about different events that are coming up and he’s just incredibly supportive as well.
That’s great, there are so many stories of small spaces getting shut down, to have the local community on board right from the start is great.

Exactly. I went to a neighborhood council meeting last night, and they are just so happy to see this neighborhood blossoming as an artistic community again. The complex here houses a theatre, a photographer, and currently web designers. The landlord gave me a bit of a history of this neighborhood, across the street thirty years ago there used to be a very large house that was the home of a painter who studied under Salvador Dali, and he would throw these extravagant elaborate parties there, and people would come from all over.