For three and a half years, the corner of Figueroa and Ave. 59 in Highland Park saw THIS gallery bloom from a shared dream by a small group of founders into an arts staple that welcomed artists, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, authors, skaters, independent ventures, troublemakers, amateurs and pros alike. Unlike Echo Park's then already fashionable gallery and storefront scene, Highland Park still pertained to a sense of danger, artistry, and adventure. What THIS gallery set out to do was champion an inclusive endowment of its friends' communal discharge of work via collaborative mayhem. Their eye-popping, hectic shows were a sight to behold; an exciting and enviable, audacious choice in an otherwise mostly minimal L.A. self-sustained gallery landscape, welcoming aesthetics and norms born out of California's DIY street culture.
Co-founders Justin Van Hoy, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, and Aaron Farley embraced and displayed the innovative work and style of artists. The roster was impressive: Sage Vaughn, Michael Hsiung, Travis Millard, Jason Lee, Daniel Gibson, Mike Bertino, Sumi Ink Club, Tim Biskup, Shepard Fairey. Those are just a few of the innovative artists shared throughout THIS's lifespan and labor-intensive affair with the Los Angeles art world. With a heavy emphasis and love for photography, THIS readily and enthusiastically adopted the role of cultural promoter by not only putting on ingenious art shows, but by producing videos about the curating process, space and artist profiles, or solely having bands playing in house.
Design also played a significant role in the THIS canon, the group not only offering a proper visual language and foundation via their flyer, t-shirt and accessory designs, but also by supporting book releases such as the Human Being Journal showcasing a fluctuation of contributing artists, and film screenings by the likes of Bill Daniel and Six Stair films. Big supporters of collage as an art form, THIS became a space where skate culture, DIY, punk rock culture, hip hop culture, graffiti, music and popular culture converged salon style.
THIS Los Angeles would go on to deliver many a celebrated art show by individual artists or collectives, but it was their series of These Friends art shows that boasted legendary lineups, a who's who of artists that spanned several generations and shared the same mischievous kindred spirit."We thought our first show should be a piece from all of our friends and people we've worked with in the past, and when we got our list of people together for that first show it was over 70 people between all of us, so we thought we would kind of be jerks if we didn't at least try" states Farley. Instantly, the conspirators involved at THIS had their finger on the pulse of what was happening in popular culture in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the lifespan of THIS Los Angeles was cut short by the passing of one of its co-founders, Justin Van Hoy. A persistent supporter of creative expression, Van Hoy had published a book entitled "Milk and Honey: Contemporary Art in California" shortly before his passing, depicting California artists in an encouraging and inspiring luminosity. A South Carolina native and design school graduate, Van Hoy moved to California for an internship with Shepard Fairey, and towards his last days, still kept supporting not only the work of California artists, but also the work of artist friends back home.
Artbound caught up with photographer/visual artist/THIS co-founder Aaron Farley to examine the history and legacy of THIS Los Angeles.
What prompted you guys to start THIS LA?
Jeremy and Claire Weiss found a large space with our friend's company East of Western. But there was 400 sq/ft storefront area in the front that wasn't being used so they asked Justin Van Hoy, Dan Monick and me if we wanted to start a gallery. We said we'd do it if Justin was in. So our lineup for the duration of THIS was Justin Van Hoy (owner -- all graphics and conceptual designer, basically got all the sources of extra funding for the space), Jeremy & Claire Weiss and I (photographers, owners). Dan Monick and Luis Farfan were also members/owners for the first year. Will Copeland basically helped with everything the whole run of the gallery. Katia Portillo Vali was part-time studio manager for the last year and Victor Saldaña was part-time installation help.
What were some of the artists that had shows at the gallery?
Megan Whitmarsh solo show, Tim Biskup solo show, a couple of shows with Sage Vaughn, Danny Gibson, Erin Garcia, Mike Bertino, Shepard Fairey, Jim Houser, Richard Coleman, Art Dump, Justin Kritmeyer, Mel Kadel, Travis Millard, Michael Hsiung, Cleon Peterson, etc. There were so many people because we really crammed a lot of shows in those three years and we had four Friends shows which all had about 100 people in each show. So there are a lot more."
Name some of the most memorable shows/adventures/incidents in the history of THIS.
We had a one of a kind Polaroid of Dennis Hopper snapped by Jason Lee stolen at our first anniversary, and with the help of a private investigator, it was returned two and a half years later, unharmed, two days before our final show. That one takes the cake. Other than that, every show was so different and all of the people who came together in that space were really amazing.
Also, we couldn't have done it without the support of RVCA. They helped out with our rent, and printed a t-shirt for us for every show. Unbelievable support from the very beginning, and they never asked a question about the shows or the artists. They believed in us 100 percent, and it allowed us to do the shows we really wanted to do, and we always knew that at least the rent was paid. Unbelievable.
Please describe how you feel THIS may have caused a lasting impression on the L.A. art landscape, what it set out to do.
At that time, we just wanted to see if we could do it. A bunch of people told us it was a bad idea to start a gallery during a recession, but we just wanted a space. We thought it would last about six months, max. Honestly, I think the relationships that came out of the people who met at the space, and Justin's book "Milk and Honey," leave the biggest impression on me. And the fact that our good friends started a new gallery in the space when we left called Slow Culture. It's a great space."
Can you go a little bit into what you feel Justin Van Hoy´s legacy is?
He was really becoming the brains and heart of the place, he was getting much more into studio visits and curating. He really had an eye for what was next and was the sweetest guy, and always knew what was happening. He was so connected to everyone, and so easy to get along with. As far as his legacy, I imagine it's all the friends and creative people who met through him; he also loved introducing people to one another, who he thought would work well together. It's so hard to put it into words because his death was so sudden and such a shock. He had just finished the Milk and Honey book and the future was so bright. It just seemed like he was coming into his own. Everybody really loved him.
Describe the differences in the neighborhood from when THIS started to the end point.
It's a bit fancier now. There's an awesome cafe next door and an amazing record store next door on the other side. We definitely helped get people over to Figueroa to see the area, but it was one of the only cheaper places to get space on Figueroa so it was bound to happen eventually.
What are THIS's staff members-directors up to now?
I'm shooting a lot, have two kids. Also, a commercial agency, THIS Represents, was just started and Jeremy Claire and I are all represented, so that's exciting.
Things that you feel are currently great and also missing in the LA art scene.
The tough thing was when we had the gallery, we had everyone coming to us and now I have to get out there and see what's going on. I love CES Contemporary in the arts district and Slow Culture, I feel a really great minimal conceptual thing happening, not sure what, we'll see. L.A. is so huge it's hard for me to wade through it all.
Aaron Farley's artwork can be seen as part of the Monochrome Show group exhibition curated by Collin Levin, Joe Mckay and Nicolai Dorian, opening Friday, August 22,2014 at 5672 York Blvd Highland Park.
THIS Los Angeles still has their website up and running. Consult it for a chronological history of their shows and efforts.
All photos courtesy of THIS Los Angeles.