Life After the Parlor

Posted February 11, 2008 in Feature Story

The artist that more and more people are beginning to know as “Lola” went to school in Riverside. She sold her first painting here and last June had her second successful solo show at M Modern gallery in Palm Springs. Now, as a part of Los Angeles’ fractured but energetic art scene, the former tattoo artist and mother of two is making a name for herself with oils and acrylics.

Lola remembers her dad painting murals in Riverside. “He did holiday window paintings around town. Since he was one of the only people doing it, he got most of the jobs,” she confided to me in her apartment/studio in Los Angeles, where she now lives. “He was always encouraging and made sure we always had art supplies.” She took a page from his book and began to paint, eventually enrolling at Riverside Community College. “There were only three art teachers and I got the meanest one of all,” she says with an embarrassed laugh. “She was one of those teachers who had her own idea of what art is supposed to be and if you venture outside those lines, you weren’t a good student.” She remembers the in-class critiques as being brutal. “I wasn’t strong enough to handle that.” So she quit college in her third year, and soon thereafter landed a gig as a tattoo artist in Moreno Valley.

With her heart only half in it, she brought her art supplies along to work for when times were slow. “There was a lack of creativity there,” she recalls. “People tell you what they want and you tattoo it. I wanted something else. So I started painting again.”

Though she sports a few tattoos on her own ankles—one of which she did herself as a ‘practice’—she told me she felt “dyslexic” as a tattooer. “There’re some really bad tattoos out there that I did,” she says apologetically.

So, she turned to her brushes and began painting the funky characters that eventually made her one of the more sought after young talents in L.A. She sold a painting for sixty bucks at a “gallery showing” in the basement of a Redlands coffee shop. Armed with a new confidence, she pestered galleries in L.A. to show her work. But things were slow to develop. Eventually she was asked to submit one painting in a group show, then two. Her big break came at Thinkspace gallery in L.A. in January of this year, when she sold out her opening night. The Palm Springs show, “Pocket Full of Posies,” sold out too—before the doors were unlocked.

Lola no longer works a traditional job, she only paints—and to her, this is living the dream. “Last year things really started to happen. In 2005 I was struggling, selling a painting here and there, saving up my money.” This year she is experiencing rapid success, but it doesn’t mean she’s living the fast life. Her apartment is small, a corner reserved for her current canvas, and her recently completed paintings hang on the walls waiting to be sold. Her door is covered with images drawn by her kids, side-by-side with other artists she finds inspiring; Nathan Spoor, Kathie Olivas, et al.

“It’s surreal,” she says, baffled about the suddenness of her burgeoning fame. “I can’t believe people want to take my paintings home. It’s hard to comprehend.” But she is accepting the fact that collectors are willing to shell out $4,000 for larger works with aplomb.

That’s because, even as the value of her pieces rises, Lola speaks in a guarded tone—as if speaking too freely about success could jinx everything she’s built up to. That’s easy to understand. After all, a couple of sold out shows doesn’t mean an upgrade in living quarters or a new car. “I’m learning to balance everything,” she adds. She judiciously carves out time to spend with her kids, get them to school, box up and ship out paintings and, when that’s all done, actually paint.

“These paintings are a really deep part of me,” she says, glancing at the unconventional characters that temporarily adorn her walls. Her characters are an odd mix of masked creatures, at once cute and whimsical with a child-like quality, or perhaps dark and covert, harboring weird secrets. But they all seem to challenge their situation. There is a sense of confrontation, either with another character or a discovery within the character itself. In a nutshell, that is Lola—discovering, challenging and seeking balance with a newfound success.

“Yes, I have times where I’m cursing and not wanting to paint, but it becomes therapeutic and I move on to the next step.” And that’s already several strides from a tattoo parlor in Moreno Valley, where so many realizations were made.







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