‘Art money doesn’t stay in Long Beach’: This art collective is hoping to change that

Members of a local art collective, dedicated to raising awareness that Long Beach artists need more gallery space, has landed, at least until the end of the year, a gallery space.

The news comes after four years of Long Beach Creative Group installing shows wherever an establishment would allow them, as is the case for many creatives in Long Beach. Visitors to the city are hard-pressed to enter a coffee shop, restaurant, clothing store or local theater without seeing an artist’s work hanging on the walls, spilling out of their studios.

LBCG has organized several exhibits in spaces not exclusively dedicated to showing and selling art, including the Long Beach Playhouse’s reception room, the walls above coffee sipping patrons at Portfolio Coffeehouse and even the Center Art Gallery, attached to The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach.

Collectors look to major galleries in Los Angeles, Culver City and Santa Monica to buy art, not Long Beach, said LBCG member Michiel Daniel. Before joining the collective, the artist had only shown in the city twice over the span of his five-decade career.

“The reason being is because you can’t sell work here,” Daniel said. “There are wealthy people in Long Beach, but they don’t buy art in Long Beach. People have money and they buy art, but they don’t trust their own aesthetic, they think they need to go to one of these big galleries.”

Not to mention, in this age of social media, younger artists are relying less and less on galleries to represent them when they can spend their time and energy promoting themselves (hopefully they’re good at it) on highly visual online platforms like Instagram.

Even the wildly successful, artist-organized, “Hello, Welcome” mural show, which ran from January to March on the floor of an empty warehouse in Long Beach, was born from an idea that artists are no longer seeking a stamp of approval from a gallery or higher institution to get their work seen or sold.

Another problem is ageism, Daniel said, who opened Stone Rose Gallery in 2012 (the last show there was in 2014) to showcase unexhibited artists who he believed deserved more attention; artists that “had been in magazines, had major shows, that couldn’t get shows anymore. So the majority of people I showed there were over 50.”

For LBCG, a group of artists whose roots in Long Beach run 40, 50, even 60 years deep—co-founder Marka Burns taught art and art education at Cal State Long Beach for 30 years, Daniel retired from teaching at Long Beach City College to open his own gallery—galleries are still seen as a potentially viable way to support local artists, the group believes the idea just needs more support.

“The main solution is more people buying art,” Daniel said. “Galleries can’t stay open, otherwise.”

Long Beach Creative Group Gallery

Artist Roderick Briggs former studio and the new gallery space of Long Beach Creative Group at 2221 E. Broadway. Photo by Asia Morris.

On Saturday, during the opening reception for “Abstraction Four Approaches”, the collective’s first exhibit at 2221 E. Broadway, guests will not be stepping into a non-traditional gallery space, as they’re sometimes called, but an operation exclusively dedicated to showcasing and selling art.

“It’s a terrific opportunity for the Creative Group,” said Burns.

The show will run through June 8, when LBCG will close the space for a month to prepare for the next exhibit. Burns voice rose in excitement at being able to provide regular hours for visitors, something that was more difficult to do with the non-galleries the group has organized shows at previously.

“We’re open noon to 4 p.m., Thursday to Sunday, just like the Long Beach Art Museum,” Burns said.

“The main idea is to have an ongoing space in Long Beach that people can count on shows,” said Daniel.

The building has its own art-related history. It was the studio of artist Roderick Briggs from 1983 until his passing in 2017 at the age of 90. Briggs’ photo-realistic paintings of unusual scenes in Long Beach as well as his midwest upbringing, expressed the brooding, lonelier parts of the personality of a man who was an active member of the Long Beach arts community for more than 60 years, as well as a loving father and husband and teacher in the school district.

Works by the late artist Roderick Briggs at Long Beach Creative Group’s new gallery at 2221 E. Broadway. Photo by Asia Morris.

After Briggs’ death, his son Cameron kept the studio intact, albeit unused for the past two years. A happenstance connection between a friend of Briggs introduced Cameron to LBCG. He donated his father’s studio to the group to use as a gallery until December with the agreement that the collective would display a rotating gallery of his father’s works. It’s likely their partnership will continue past this initial contract, Burns said.

Now hanging in the foyer of the building, named “The Rod Briggs Memorial Gallery,” are several of the late artist’s paintings, including a self-portrait, a depiction of the 710 freeway onramp and, perhaps the most historically significant, the destruction of the Jergins Trust building on Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. The painting was finished a year after in 1989.

“It is an honor to be able to host a space for local artists to exhibit their work,” Cameron said. “I think that my father would be very pleased that his studio is being used as a gallery to further the arts in Long Beach.”

“Abstraction Four Approaches”

Suspended from the ceiling and almost grazing the floor, a multimedia sculpture made of stained and stitched-together paper is the largest work in the room. Daniel, who curated the show and has followed the evolution of Betsy Lohrer Hall’s art over the years, referred to it as “the best work she’s ever done.”

“Her work always has to do with this kind of repetitive skill,” Daniel said. “She’s studying Buddhism and said it’s almost like meditation because she just sits there and sews these things. This piece just knocks me out.”

“Abstractions Four Approaches” brings together a few very distinct takes on the genre of abstract art by local artists.

A far cry from Hall’s meticulously textured pieces, retired professor and artist William Lane’s paintings across the room display boldly colored, geometric abstractions. Daniel said at first glance they remind him of the hard-edge paintings of the 60s.

“But the more you look at them… he’s glazing this stuff, there’s layer upon layer, they have a different kind of space to them,” Daniel said.

Works by William Lane in Long Beach Creative Group’s exhibition “Abstraction Four Approaches” at 2221 E. Broadway in Long Beach, CA. Photo by Asia Morris.

Katie Stubblefield, who came out of Cal State Long Beach around the same time as Hall, layers bold, contrasting stripes where obscured scenes up for the viewer’s interpretation appear behind them.

“Every one of her paintings, even though they’re completely nonobjective, it looks like there’s something in there,” Daniel said, squinting at one of Stubblefield’s works.

When asked if being able to turn 2221 E. Broadway into a gallery gives LBCG a sense of relief, Burns and Daniel replied no, the work isn’t over yet.

“Unfortunately, one gallery is not going to do it,” said Daniel. “We have a very, very large number of artists to population [ratio].”

Work by artist Katie Stubblefield in Long Beach Creative Group’s exhibition “Abstraction Four Approaches” at 2221 E. Broadway in Long Beach, CA. Photo by Asia Morris.

Burns mentioned the development happening in Downtown, the city’s support for the arts and the opening of a few new galleries as ripples in an upswing for the arts in Long Beach. LBCG is just one part of it.

“Good art, you’ll have for the rest of your life,” Burns said. “And you can hand it down to your heirs. It’s like people are willing to spend $1,500 on a pair of shoes, or go to Nordstrom and buy a blouse for $400, but it’s not going to last forever. Art lasts forever.”

The opening of “Abstraction Four Approaches” takes place Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Long Beach Creative Group Art Gallery, 2221 E. Broadway. Please do not park in the parking lot next to the building or your car may be towed, it is suggested attendees use Uber or Lyft. 

For more information about LBCG visit the Facebook page here and the “Abstractions Four Approaches” event page here.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.
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