Hol­ly­wood ho­tel hits mother lode

Artists use a ceil­ing at the Mama Shel­ter for col­or­ful sketches about their moms.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Jes­sica Gelt

It’s past 9 p.m., and Kim Fisher’s neck is killing her.

For the last hour, the artist has been stand­ing on a steplad­der near a bar counter, cran­ing her face to the black ceil­ing where she is drawing her mother in hot rollers. Her back is arched at an awk­ward an­gle, and her drawing arm is crooked like a slen­der gi­raffe neck above her body. She’s not alone. More than a dozen artists look equally un­com­fort­able perched on lad­ders and stools across the room, chalk in hand, sketch­ing sto­ries about their moms.

“I spent end­less hours watch­ing my mom go through the rit­ual of putting hot rollers in her hair,” said Fisher, who was fea­tured in

the Ham­mer Mu­seum’s 2014 “Made in L.A.” bi­en­nial. “It made such a last­ing im­pres­sion on me.”

A cir­cus of es­tab­lished and up-and-com­ing artists from L.A., New York and abroad has de­scended on the soon-to-open Mama Shel­ter ho­tel in Hol­ly­wood, where owner Benjamin Trig­ano has asked them to treat his ceil­ing like a pop-cul­ture Sistine Chapel. The artists, in­clud­ing young ab­stract painter Alex Be­cerra (praised last year in a Times gallery re­view), Greek-born provo­ca­teur De­spina Stokou, Vi­enna-based painter Alex Ruth­ner (who had a sell­out ex­hi­bi­tion at a Lon­don gallery last sum­mer) and sur­re­al­ist video artist and painter Pearl Hsi­ung (part of the Ham­mer’s 2012 bi­en­nial), have been con­gre­gat­ing in groups of 20 or 30 for the last month to eat pizza, drink beer and con­trib­ute a piece of fam­ily his­tory to the grow­ing artis­tic state­ment.

Pho­tog­ra­phers Alex Prager (fea­tured in a 2010 Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art ex­hi­bi­tion) and Matthew Brandt (part of the Getty Mu­seum’s cur­rent show “Light, Pa­per, Process”) are cre­at­ing im­agery for the ho­tel’s el­e­va­tors; French fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher and video direc­tor Jean-Bap­tiste Mondino and Los An­ge­les artist An­drew Bush are shoot­ing ma­te­rial for the bar; Matthew Bran­non has de­signed the neon sign that will perch atop the six-story ho­tel’s roof at the cor­ner of Selma and Wil­cox av­enues.

Trig­ano, also owner and cu­ra­tor of M+B Gallery in West Hol­ly­wood and grand­son of Club Med de­vel­oper Gil­bert Trig­ano, is head­ing up the U.S. ex­pan­sion of his fam­ily’s French bou­tique ho­tel chain. And though he didn’t nec­es­sar­ily set out to do it, art is be­com­ing the ho­tel’s sig­na­ture mo­tif. He be­gan by telling cu­ra­tors and artist friends to spread the word, and he of­fered a free din­ner for two and a night’s stay at the ho­tel for any artist who showed up. The barter proved at­trac­tive; tak­ing money out of the equa­tion made the scene seem fun, par­tic­i­pants said. Word quickly spread. When the ho­tel opens in early June, more than 100 artists will have left their marks on the ceil­ing.

“Now I have peo­ple call­ing me, which is funny,” Trig­ano said dur­ing a re­cent tour of the ho­tel. “Hon­estly, it’s just as or­ganic as can be. Maybe one day we’ll run out of space and it will be­come some­thing else.” Walls and ceil­ings

Trig­ano, who opened his gallery seven years ago, is known for throw­ing lav­ish par­ties for his artists at his Han­cock Park home, where al­most ev­ery wall is cov­ered in paint­ings, draw­ings and pho­to­graphs. His predilec­tion for scene-build­ing has ex­tended to Mama Shel­ter, where he com­mis­sioned the ho­tel’s designer, Thierry Gau­gain, to cre­ate a spe­cial lad­der so guests can view the ceil­ing. (Each of the ho­tel’s 70 rooms will be out­fit­ted with, along with the usual Bi­ble, an iMac, a copy of Keith Richards’ bi­og­ra­phy and var­i­ous L.A.-cen­tric screen- plays like “The Big Le­bowski.”)

Af­ter the ho­tel opens, the ceil­ing project will con­tinue. Trig­ano would like to add mu­si­cians and writ­ers to the art melt­ing pot, which in­cludes recipes for Mom’s chili (“beef or turkey will do with one onion”), a pic­ture of a woman on a trapeze with a baby dan­gling from an um­bil­i­cal cord, and in­ter­est­ing Mom-ut­tered phrases such as “One time my mom told me, ‘Be a mango, not a co­conut.’”

Plans to cat­a­log the out­pour­ing of sto­ries and emo­tions are vague. Trig­ano would say only that he and his as­sis­tant were try­ing to get pic­tures of each con­tri­bu­tion and were work­ing on a way to make that in­for­ma­tion avail­able to guests.

When artists ar­rive, they sim­ply sign their name on a sheet of note pa­per, pick up chalk and get to work. Pizza comes in card­board boxes, and drinks, in­clud­ing Trader Joe’s Vodka of the Gods in a plas­tic bot­tle, are served in red party cups. The mood is fes­tive, and most of the artists seem to know one an­other.

“I think there’s a huge boom in L.A. right now, with a lot of artists mov­ing here,” said Simmy Swinder, a cu­ra­tor who runs an art space in Los An­ge­les called Four Six One Nine. She helped Trig­ano re­cruit peo­ple for the ceil­ing project. “There’s a real sense of com­mu­nity be­tween peo­ple who ar­rived here in­de­pen­dently and aren’t near their own fam­i­lies. That was the idea be­hind the ceil­ing.”

Get­ting so many artists to­gether like this is rare, Vanessa Prager said while sketch­ing a lit­tle boy and his mother.

“There are so many cool artists in L.A. right now, and it feels good to gather to do some­thing weird.”

Taken to­gether, the work is a hodge­podge of color and de­signs done with vary­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail. What’s up?

John Houck has drawn a pic­ture of a shoe be­ing tied by two pairs of hands (“It’s loosely based on the Ni­chol­son Baker novel ‘The Mez­za­nine,’ which says that ty­ing your shoe is the first ma­chine you’re con­fronted with as a child,” he said). Lisa Sol­berg has dashed off an ex­plo­sion of fire­works (“My mom loves fire­works. We call her ‘ the pro­fes­sional cel­e­bra­tor’”). Jesse Steck­low has care­fully cre­ated a black-and-white pig (“It’s not a ref­er­ence to my mom be­ing a pig; my grand­fa­ther had a funky col­lec­tion of pigs that my mom sort of in­her­ited”). Michael Kennedy Costa re-cre­ated a por­trait of Vir­ginia Woolf (“My mom is a pro­fes­sor and she teaches Woolf, so I grew up with this im­age in the house, plus she sort of looks like a mom”).

Steve Hansen, the founder of China Art Ob­jects gallery in L.A., also added a piece: a small pic­ture of a cat with his mother’s name and a long list of her cats’ names.

“My mom had a bunch of cats and she’s dead and all th­ese cats are dead,” he said. “It’s sad. All of th­ese are sad. Moms are happy and sad.”

Hansen said he helped to spread the word about the Mama Shel­ter ceil­ing be­cause the free-for-all na­ture ap­pealed to him.

“You don’t have to sign it, and it doesn’t have to be any­thing like the art you ac­tu­ally do,” he said.

With so many peo­ple on the project, Trig­ano will be pay­ing it for­ward for some time, which means that although the ho­tel wasn’t cre­ated for artists, it will be full of them.

“Hey, I owe them,” Trig­ano said, smil­ing.

‘There are so many cool artists in L.A. right now, and it feels good to gather to do some­thing weird.’

— Vanessa Prager,

artist in­volved in Mama Shel­ter project

Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

MAMA SHEL­TER’s Benjamin Trig­ano shows off some of the artists’ work on the Sistine Chapel-like ceil­ing.

Pho­tog raphs by Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

ARTISTS cre­ate col­or­ful salutes to their moms on the ceil­ing of the Mama Shel­ter ho­tel in Hol­ly­wood.

THE CEIL­ING “gallery” of­fers a va­ri­ety of de­signs cre­ated by es­tab­lished artists and up-and-com­ers.

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