Being an artist in Los Angeles, can be for the most part, very isolating. The city is so large and spread out, that it can be incredibly difficult to venture into common social situations. Combine that with the massive deadlines and work that primarily is done within the home/studio, and you get a career that requires a lot of solitude. This is where I found myself with this project back in February. I was feeling a little out of sorts with my social self, and was having a little trouble surviving off of my artwork since resigning from my position at Disney Consumer Products. I began to paint outside my studio in places all over the city. Diners, cafes, libraries, park benches, friends houses, offices at temp jobs, and other places beyond my apartment became my virtual studio. I learned to paint with other resources beyond my normal supplies, and forged interesting and solid friendships along the way.
One place in particular was this diner off of Sunset Blvd called “The Brite Spot” in Echo Park, Los Angeles. I had always had this affinity for this place, because it was the FIRST place I had walked into when I first moved to Los Angeles. This restaurant, established in 1949, is the ultimate definition of an old school Los Angeles diner. Customers range from the tragically hip to the clinically insane, and its always chocked full of celebrities and musicians. The staff are all artists in some fashion, and work relentlessly and fiercely hard night after night while the place fills up past capacity in the wee hours of the morning. The decor I would always lovingly describe as “Grandma’s kitchen after she stopped taking her medication and went completely crazy”. I say this because there were portraits that were all over the place and all of them were eccentric and mismatched. All in all, this place was the quintessential hang out for East Los Angelinos at night.
I started frequenting here, bringing my rolled up canvas and sitting in a corner booth with my paints and dining on french toast dripping with syrup and taking full advantage of the bottomless cup of well brewed black coffee. The waiters and waitresses didn’t seem to mind as I took up one of their tables, and soon called this place my art studio.
In the morning I’d get up and walk behind the restaurant to my temp job at the Union. I worked briefly for CAPE (California Association of Professional Employees) whenever Twila, the southern receptionist from Georgia, was out of town. I was beginning to feel ennui with my work, and also a little depressed with my financial situation and art career situation, because I wanted that ability to just be able to survive off of painting for a living. I inhaled greatly and my eyes widened with relief when I saw my 35 minute lunch break was on, and I ran down to The Brite Spot to get a lunch.
The waitress running the floor was sporting a fancy orange county pop punk hairdo and quickly handed me a menu as I entered the door. There was something about her face that I missed seeing in myself. It was this face of “I have a million things to do at this point in time” intermixed with “too busy to think”. I remember that face when I sported it. I grew up working in the restaurant industry. My first job was at 15 years old when I was a bus boy at The Black Eyed Pea in Merchants Walk Plaza in Marietta, GA. I then grew up working as a graveyard waiter at The Paper Moon in Savannah, and at Sparky’s 24 Hour Diner in San Francisco. There was such satisfaction in working hard, and leaving late smelling like syrup, grease, and coffee. It was a symbol that I was living to work, and I loved the feeling of hard work. I quickly asked her, a little awkwardly in my office suit, if they were hiring. … and that was that.
I began working there as a bus boy and moved up to graveyard guy as the months progressed. I waited on the aforementioned customers, and while I loved them, I loved nothing greater than the lost and lonely that would sporadically wander in through life’s intersections into our place. I’d pour them a cup, and listen for hours about their lives from rags to riches, riches to rags, or just rags to rags as they’d tell me the history of their life and sometimes Los Angeles. The city began to unfold for me in that sense… Kind of like when you first move somewhere and the area doesn’t makes sense until you live there for a while… the streets begin to form more solidly in your mind and the definition of your surroundings become more picturesque. Hearing these people were like reading books. They’d come in, and talk, and unravel their pages and read themselves in front of me, and I’d see the pictures in my head, and leave my shift heavy headed and filled with all these stories of their lives… and day by day Los Angeles and its history began to unfold clearer and clearer into this really crystal clear place, that had been so obscure to me for so long.
I loved the diner and its inhabitants so much, that I made a Mickey in honor of the place that I worked at night. This is called “Eight Eggs Over Mickey”. There are classic diner lingo in here (Order Up, Late Night Diner Food) as well as Diner food objects (Hash Browns, French Toast). There are eight sunny side up eggs which say “flip me!” as Mickey’s eyes state that there is a want for “2 Eggs Over Easy”. In the face it reads
“SEPTEMBER 15th, 2012 ECHO PARK, LOS ANGELES
That temp job @ the union office didn’t last long. I couldn’t stop drawing at my desk and I could tell that I was weirding them out. I went out for lunch that day to the diner on the corner. It’s been there since 1949. Hip girls and guys work there. I order an appetizer and I’m feeling down b/c I don’t like my side job and yet I can’t quit it b/c I need cash for travel and supplies for my art. I taste the food and look up @ the server. “Are you hiring?” I say, sweating in a ridiculous office suit. “Yes” she says. I literally hadn’t worked in a diner in about twelve years since Sparky’s in San Francisco. I loved graveyard shift…. so I leave that office job and I work nights and paint during the day. I come home at 3am and see the coyotes walking on the streets looking for food… and sometimes I stay up to watch the sun rise.
I’m really liking these moments working the late night shift. It fills me up. I have never been much for glamour.. and there is something strangely fulfilling about being tired, greasy, and smelling like syrup, pancakes, and coffee… The customers are nice, some… can be a bit… awful and mean sometimes, but thats the way it works really. .. There are fantastic people too. I do come here for the human interaction more than anything else, it is a world that is so separate from my own. I love it.
Sometimes my worlds come together. The other dat a woman came talking about how pop art was a farce and I sought to defend it with a rebuttal, she squinted her eyes @ me and said, “What do you know about art? You are just a waiter”
I said, “You are right, I know nothing”. ”