Somewhere off in internetland, Eutaxis was gearing up for the second week of the grievechronic dday book drop giveaway season as the train chugged north from Los Angeles. The landscape slashed away in the parallel lines of planting season past Oxnard until the train veered right and the ocean exploded into view in all its glory.
Running around for the Globalboho Guides between art residencies, murals and retreats for the last few I’d come through Santa Barbara multiple times, but at like four in the morning, barreling down towards LA on the train before the sun rose.
Today was the first time I was going to get to see for myself what all the buzz on the road was about, even though I had less than a day to do it. Amtrak rolled into Santa Barbara a little bit past noon. It was foggy as I ambled towards the old wooden pier, a bit chilly and balmy at the same time. It was like the blues couldn’t decide what to do with themselves, be it clash or compliment one another until the fog rolled out.
Santa Barbara is a laidback, picturesque adult’s Xanadu. I made my way through urban (wine) flights of fancy coming at me from every direction towards my intended destination: the Funk Zone, an area I’d been hearing about since the mural near Heavenly Mountain up alongside South Lake Tahoe last November, described as the penultimate, mellow mash up of tasting rooms, actual artists and spanish colonial streaks of red and white.
It did not disappoint.
It is not like Monterrey and Carmel, a known B&B haven for writers, painters and romantics drawn BY the world famous light, but surely a host of creatives making their ways up the coast to those zones ambled happily through Santa Barbara’s city limits. What it reminded me of was South of Fifth on South Beach, Palm Beach and that movie Wild Palms, energetically speaking. It was very easy to imagine the day sliding from chilly fog to sweltering heat that demanded the thinning of blood with chilled wines and finger foods to balmy, heady madness that comes after that dance has become the seasonal dance. Like the happily boozy upper crust of New Orleans cleaned of all the frenetic, filthy fun that makes NOLA such an in your face blast but burns the uninitiated out really fast.
In the FUnkzone you have the pulse of the old and the new… Impacthub, a 24 hour coworking outfit with three locations in Santa Barbara (as well as in Tribeca NY and Los Angeles) sits on the first block beyond the train station and is helmed by globally-minded recent grads from local colleges and universities with initiatives like empowering female entrepreneurs in Tanzania worn on their sleeves, and is chock full of start-ups of every denomination. A few blocks from it sits Shalhoob’s Funkzone Patio, a now third generation butcher shop[ read: Carnivore’s paradise] that has reinevented itself into this relaxed event epicenter whose owner brings in a roster of phenomenal chefs, deejays and basically throws laidback grill-centric parties every night tucked away from Santa Barbara’s waterfront.
But in workrooms carved into industrial buildings pressed up against the train tracks wasn’t the pristine presentational particulars that come with being in gentrified arthead neighborhoods. Instead, Santa Barbara has somehow held onto what makes artists flock to forgotten about areas to work in the first place, even surrounded by an obscene amount of restaurants and tasting rooms in lieu of bars. These were real, working studios, tucked wherever real estate could be wrestled from all things food and wine between the highway and train tracks. There was a woman with a huge canvas propped up outside her studio battling with her vision in the shade as the heat hit, workspaces that had two and three drum sets wedged between easels that spilled out of their confines, artists who have taken over the foyers of crossfit gyms and made them into freestanding galleries of their own accord. ..and then… there was 111.
A passionate artist in her own right, Barbara Leung Larson is also the director of Studio One Eleven at 111a Santa Barbara street, a printmaking, art and design studio and gallery in the heart of the Funk Zone.
Lining the walls of Oneeleven are works by local artists, students she mentors and a few pieces by the artist herself. The venue is also known for putting on occasional local exhibitions. Her work registered to me as an evocative clash between Motherwell and Munch taken to places neither of those artists could have fathomed, and talking about watching the love of printmaking take hold of those who were primarily schooled in more traditional mediums is clearly something that lights her up. She invited me to check out a printmaking lab going down that evening on the other side of my Globalboho explorations of the city and I happily accepted.
There were a handful of artists already in their respective flows when I arrived a little after six. Printmaking is one of those mediums that calls both the technical and whatever is your artistic terroir out of you. There are certain aspects you have to keep in mind- things I personally hadn’t thought about in like 20 years[ #heavylefthandedinker] like how to work positively or negatively, but once your parameters are set, how you go about going into whatever ethereal or hard-lined visions are calling you is all up to you.
A girl who was learning how to pull prints for the first time followed her geist and ended up conjuring a cat-scratched portrait of her own anima that surprised even her, looking as if it belonged roaring on the cover of a Florence + the Machine album.
An artist by the name of Avi Doran was cutting into a stencil of an Octopus with razors that he was gearing up to somehow make multilayered magic happen with solely utilizing one pass. We spoke about how he’d gotten into printmaking after a course at a local college, and how, after his family lost everything in the wildfires that ravaged the area in 2017, his father was most hurt by all the art created by him and his siblings that was lost in the flames. There was one piece in particular that his dad loved, that he had somehow salvaged the proof of and was recreating to surprise him with for Father’s Day. You could tell his joy was full as he spoke about how elated he knew his dad was going to be.
Artist Steve Richardson worked away on a beautifully eerie series that looked like the kind of metallic sunset over churning water you’d see in the Badlands or on another planet. Steve had focused primarily on the kind of landscape paintings that spoke to the way light reacts to a place and had only been printmaking two years, but felt as if Barbara’s introducing him to the medium had really set him free in both mediums. She had some of his paintings on-site and his work underscored to me that the light effect I was trying to wrap my brain around upon arrival wasn’t only seen by me- a good thing when it comes to seeing things a little differently in the world, arthead-wise.
The weekly Monotype session was a great, mellow event that occurs four hours every Wednesday for like $40. People ambled in waving IN-N-out to visit friends hard at work, other local artists came through to show love to Larson, even a young artist from France came through with a friend, lit with inspiration that had him craving to do a mural in Santa Barbara… and I know that city bite, too. It’s like this wild, cagey arthead hunger where the walls of a place start singing to you, telling you that your weird vibe is needed within its city limits.
It was watching her with the young muralist that really made me feel like she was why I was there. Plainly put, Larson is a powerhouse. Her work pulls you in and makes you think about where you are and how you move through it. But even beyond that, she is a giving connector. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a working artist so encouraging of other creatives that cross their paths. She glowed with pride over the work of her friends, did all she could to bring together creatives that she felt could have a bountiful interaction with one another- and she reminded me outside of my own head that This is the dance that true artists do. When you are leaning into your own calling, all else you run into on that creative walk, that weird often solitary journey of being an artist…is family. There is powerful connection possible there that should be celebrated.
Studio One Eleven felt like a place within the Funkzone that vibrated with that…solely due to her artistic spirit. If you get the chance to go through Santa Barbara, even if only for an afternoon or a day… Go see Barbara Leung Larson at Studio One Eleven. And MAKE some art while you’re there. The light in the city really is goading you to do so…You’re not imagining it.