Photos by Asia Morris.
Angela Willcocks, a Long Beach-based artist obsessed with “the other,” or as she defined the term in an interview with the Post in October 2014, “The other person people don’t recognize that really impact our culture,” has been experimenting with bringing the community together in a gallery space-turned Willcocks’ studio at The Collaborative, a public art project of the Arts Council for Long Beach and the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA).
OPEN, this current exhibition, which viewers have until Saturday to visit, features several miniature pop-up portraits of Long Beach residents, as well as an extension of her “China Cups” project, which she began in Beijing, China during the Summer in 2012. Also on display are several of the portraits-turned-animations she drew for A LOT North, while perhaps the most compelling works of art are the hanging pieces she drew of gang members who float ominously above the small portraits on the floor, where Willcocks will say, “See, you look down on them.”
A quick visit to The Collaborative and you’re immediately enthralled with “the other.” If you ask Willcocks about the stories behind each of these pieces, you’ll certainly leave with a more informed understanding of Long Beach culture and the resilient people that make up its inner folds. Willcocks is an art professor, meaning there’s always a lesson to be taught.
“I’ve always considered myself ‘an other’ because I’m an immigrant and come from another country,” she explained, regarding her A LOT North Initiative to depict the barbershop culture of North Long Beach in October.
For OPEN, in an effort to show that artists are also people enduring and struggling to chase their dreams, just like anyone else, and to more effectively bring in “the other” to the gallery space, Willcocks hopes to challenge the stereotype of an artist’s life being a “dream come true,” by being a part of the exhibit herself.
“I think by putting myself in the performance I am challenging the stereotypical idea the general public has about Art and the ‘artist,’” she iterated. “I think this is a business and I chose to put myself out there to show that we are just struggling like everybody else.”
She continued, “I am actually 'an other.' An immigrant to America, living and working in Long Beach, who has worked hard to make a career and I think by putting myself in the performance I am creating a connection to the culture, the community and pushing the boundaries of what a gallery space can be and mean. I am not fluffy, I am not a hippy, I am good at math and intelligent. Art is for all, but cannot be made by all. We all should be able to be access Art, and Art is not always about the finished product it is also about the process and through the process change can happen.”
Willcocks describes her work as “by the other for the other” and, as an immigrant herself (she hails from Australia), she has an innate consideration for those who are dissimilar to her and the impact they have on our culture. This artist wants to knock the stereotyped artist off their pedestal, and make art accessible to anyone interested. Through her paintings and portraits, Willcocks takes a humanistic approach to inviting the viewer into what would otherwise be considered the sacred, revered space of the gallery institution.
“One of the problems with art in gallery spaces is the intimidation factor, the art is just on the walls and we have very little access to the process[...] We often put art on a pedestal on one hand or ‘my kid could paint that’ on the other.”
Willcocks described an instance where she felt her motive to disrupt the usual perception of the gallery space was realized, when she was able to convince a curious man who felt out of place, to walk inside and experience OPEN for himself.
“A good example was on my first day in the space,” she began. “A young immigrant Mexican man, who was working on the construction of the sandwich shop next door, covered in dust and paint, stood at the door refusing to come in. He had seen me drawing and wanted to know what I was doing. I said come on in and he said no I can't I am dirty. We convinced him it was OK, he came in and looked at all the work. We chatted about what I was doing, I videoed him and I have finally drawn him.”
According to Willcocks, the viewers that have stopped by are varied and include lawyers, locals walking their dogs, artists, local workers, people who have been at the courthouse (down the street) and some who she had met on the street and taken pictures of. She describes the sense of pride people feel when they see her drawings, when they can connect on a human level with the portraits, when the “unseen become seen.” She gives out the drawings at the end of the show to the people who she immortalized in graphite.
“They are amazed at my drawings and often stop and pull up a chair to watch and chat,” she said. “Many ask if they can be drawn. They always ask how much and are amazed at the fact that if I draw them they will get a copy for free.”
Step into The Collaborative before Sunday, and you’ll be pleasantly welcomed by an artist who is simply interested in connecting with other people and capturing the details of their beings. As an extension of her shop front studio in North Long Beach, “People see themselves in the drawings, want to know who the people are and this means dialogue.” So ask her a question, watch her work or have yourself drawn, but go and see for your own curiosity why OPEN is indeed opening minds and meet one of Long Beach's most outspoken creatives.
For more information about Willcocks, visit her blog here. The Collaborative is located at 421 W. Broadway and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00AM to 5:00PM and on Sunday by appointment. For more information, click here or call (562) 590-9119.