Surrounded by vibrant, prismatic murals and lush outdoor gardens, the exterior of Avenue 50 Studios is a full-fledged exhibition itself — but anyone in the area should find the time to examine the sizeable collection inside one of the most organic, artist-centric galleries in the Northeast Los Angeles area.
In a small workshop near the Marmion Way railroad tracks, Avenue 50 Studios is connecting independent painters, sculptors, photographers and engravers to promote community-oriented art with a global message. Featuring work from Highland Park to the Central Valley to the Bay Area, the small studio has amassed a large collective of Californian artists since its opening in 2000. Despite variations in the backgrounds and styles of all the artists, they’ve partnered with Avenue 50 Studios and used their talents to spread awareness of Chicanx culture and history.
Through a strong focus on the symbolism of L.A. and Latin America, the gallery’s wide-range of colors and styles hopes to illustrate the variability within each artist and the Chicanx experience as a whole. With some pieces featuring grayscale, pencil-drawn calaveras and others displaying cartoon-like, magenta Aztec warriors, the tone might feel scattered to the unassuming eye — but the message of Chicanx empowerment is as focused as the artists on their craft.
For example, within one of the five current exhibitions that Avenue 50 Studios currently displays, a group of eighteen different artists collaborated to create “LOWRIDER: A Group Show.” Within the collection of radiant paintings and abstract wood carvings, the common theme of Chicanx “Lowrider” culture during the 1940s and ’50s is at the heart of each distinctive piece. During the post-World War II period, many Latinx L.A. residents began converting bland factory cars into highly-decorated, slowly driving vehicles as an expression of their individuality. The artworks mirror the countercultural aspects of the lowrider movement itself: they are personal, made for aesthetic consumption instead of profit. While each of the five exhibits feels cohesive individually, the overarching political significance of the gallery is amplified when viewing all the exhibits in conjunction.
In addition to a focus on Latinx cultural origins, many of Avenue 50 Studio’s exhibits include La Raza and United Farm Workers imagery through depictions of Dolores Huerta, César Chávez and migrant laborers in the Central Valley. In an attempt to explore the cultural roots of Chicanx heritage, Avenue 50 Studios’ artists incorporate numerous Mayan and Aztec symbols into their works to illuminate areas of progress and stagnation for Chicanx families. While Latinx-Americans are steadily gaining more accurate media representation, many families face the same living and working conditions of their parents and grandparents.
Within the exhibit “Centavo Bohemio,” by Highland Park artist Juan G. Solis, the muted colors of charcoal pencils and ball-point pens highlight the beauty of Chicanx families while living in the contemptible environmental conditions in certain L.A. communities. Although originally trained in lithography, Solis appears to have moved away from his stone-printing expertise to focus on the more “human” art of sketching. Portraying Latina demi-goddesses standing stoically in swirling clouds of noxious fumes, Solis’ series of portraits exemplifies the innate power given to people by their Chicanx heritage. Moreover, his collection critiques the government groups and corporations that enable housing and environmental injustices within neighborhoods like Walnut Park, Boyle Heights and Maywood.
Despite recent controversies over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) — and their potential to inspire art relating to the immigration debate — Avenue 50 Studios’ artists express a clear focus on other pressing political issues like gentrification and environmental discrimination. Because of this, artists have filled the walls with artwork that takes a refreshing political stance and a distinct optimism during pessimistic times. In this lies the true magnificence of Avenue 50 studios. By granting uber-talented individuals a haven to express individual viewpoints, the space focuses on the beauty within Californian communities and Chicanx culture, rather than being absorbed in the negativity of certain political issues.
Avenue 50 Studios is located at 131 North Avenue 50 and operates from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., everyday but Friday. While their current set of exhibitions will only be displayed until May 5th, new works focusing on Latina empowerment are the theme of next month’s exhibit.