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Guy Webster - photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

Guy Webster – photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

For 75 years, the legendary photographer Guy Webster led a charmed existence. Then health problems laid him low, to the point where he could no longer operate a camera or ride his beloved motorcycles. Now he is willing himself toward recovery, and cultivating a philosophical detachment toward what he has lost, and reveling in the richness of what remains: his family, his friends, and his memories of a truly extraordinary life.

By Mark Lewis

Ojai has no shortage of raconteurs, but Guy Webster is in a class by himself. Walk by NoSo Vita in the morning and you’ll likely see him sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand, holding forth for a table full of friends. Drop by the Porch Gallery on a Saturday evening to attend an art opening and there he’ll be, sitting on the veranda at the center of a group that is hanging on his every word. And he drew a big crowd on Aug. 14 at the Ojai Valley Museum to hear him talk about his world-famous collection of classic Italian motorcycles, five of which were on glorious display in the background.

Over time, this collection has totalled more than 350 bikes, but Guy has sold most of them off. Since suffering a stroke in April 2015, he walks with difficulty and he can’t ride at all. Embracing the rehabilitation challenge, he took himself from wheelchair to walker to cane. More recently he took a tumble that has set back his recovery process, but he still maintains a hectic travel schedule, and when in town he still makes the rounds. On the eve of his 77th birthday, he sat down with the Ojai Quarterly to reminisce about his life and career.

TINSELTOWN TEEN

Guy Webster made his Hollywood debut at the age of 1 in November 1940, appearing in the hit film “You’ll Find Out,” which starred the popular bandleader Kay Kayser. The supporting cast included Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi. According to the Internet Movie Database, Guy was cast as “an infant.” No screen credit, alas. But he did have one laugh line, of sorts: When someone asked him what he thought of Adolf Hitler, he stuck out his tongue and blew Hitler the raspberry.

“My father trained me to do that,” he says.

What had brought little Guy to a sound stage at such a tender age?  Blame it on another child actor, Shirley Temple. Several years earlier, the Fox studio had lured Guy’s father, the lyricist Paul Francis Webster, west from New York to write songs for Temple, then the biggest star in the world. Paul apparently only wrote one lyric for her – a lullaby she sang to her doll in “Our Little Girl” (1935). But he found Southern California very much to his liking, so he settled in Beverly Hills and became one of the movie industry’s most successful lyricists. Guy’s own film career ended where it began with “You’ll Find Out,” but his father went on to garner 16 Oscar nominations and three wins during his four-decade Hollywood career.

Working with such legendary composers as Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington, Paul Webster wrote the words for many hit songs, at least three of which are now considered standards — “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and “Black Coffee,” both composed by Ellington, and “The Shadow of Your Smile,” composed by Johnny Mandel.

Hits were nice, but it was Paul’s film work, mostly for MGM, which financed his Beverly Hills lifestyle. He installed his family — wife Gloria, sons Guy and Roger — in a handsome, three-story Tudor Revival house on North Crescent Drive near the Beverly Hills Hotel. Still, everything is relative, even in Beverly Hills.

“I thought we were poor because we didn’t have a tennis court,” Guy says.

Guy was a serious-enough tennis player at Beverly Hills High School that he came up here to play in The Ojai Tennis Tournament — his first exposure to his future home.  But sports heroes did not inspire awe in Beverly Hills, where Guy’s peer group included many children of Hollywood celebrities who were also future stars themselves: Edgar Bergen’s daughter Candice, Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo, Frank Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. Guy’s good friends included Terry Melcher, whose mother, Doris Day, had sung Paul Webster’s Oscar-winning song “Secret Love” in the 1953 film “Calamity Jane.”

This sounds like a glamorous childhood, but Guy says it left him prematurely jaded, because it exposed him and his friends to the seamy side of their parents’ Hollywood lifestyle. This was during the “L.A. Confidential” 1950s, a time when Lana Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane came home to Beverly Hills from Ojai’s Happy Valley School for spring break in 1958 and stabbed her mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato to death, in what was ruled a justifiable homicide. That’s an extreme example, but Guy and his friends saw things that did not square with the picture-perfect Hollywood image.

“We knew what was going on,” he says. “It shocked us. We saw it all. I didn’t like it.”

He escaped first to Whittier College and then, as a foreign-exchange student, to Copenhagen, where he hung around with “highly intelligent people” who were artistic rather than materialistic.

“It seemed like a respite for me to be away from the over-abundant life in Beverly Hills,” he says.

A political science major, he admired John F. Kennedy and planned to go into politics. But a short stint in the Army during the early 1960s diverted him into photography. His superiors at Fort Ord asked him to teach some of his fellow soldiers how to use a camera. He had never used one before, but he read some photography books and bluffed his way through, and found that he had real talent.

“I went nuts for it,” he says.

He had planned to attend grad school at Yale after he left the Army, but instead ended up at the Art Center College in Los Angeles, with the goal of becoming a fine-arts photographer who would show his work in galleries. And so he would — eventually. But first he had to make a living, and that led him to Hollywood.

Guy’s father did not approve of his career choice, and declined to fund it.

“He thought I’d be a paparazzo,” Guy says. “He cut me off financially at a very early age.”

So Guy started working for the many record companies based in Los Angeles. He already had connections in the industry, including his old friend Terry Melcher.

This was 1963, when the pop charts were still dominated by teen-idol types who were crooners rather than rockers. The labels offered Guy plenty of work shooting Hollywood-style portraits of popular young singers like Wayne Newton — and Johnny Mathis, who had scored hits with several Paul Francis Webster songs, including “The Twelfth of Never.” But Guy was more in tune with people like Melcher who were more into rock ‘n’ roll.

As a singer, Melcher comprised half of Bruce and Terry, a vocal duo he had formed with the future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. As a songwriter and a record producer, Melcher had his own company, T.M. Music. Despite its name, T.M. was dominated, not by Melcher, but by his high-profile business partner, the singer Bobby Darin. Melcher connected Guy with Darin, and as a result, Guy ended up photographing  Darin for Capitol Records. It turned out that Guy’s then wife, Bettie, was good friends with Darin’s then wife, the movie star Sandra Dee, so the two couples began socializing together.

Darin personified the changes that were in the air. He had started out in ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Splish Splash”), then segued into his Sinatra mode (“Mack the Knife”), and was now exploring new sounds — not only country and folk, but also surf music and its subset, hot rod rock. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean currently were scoring hits in this genre, so Darin and Melcher decided to try their hand at it. They co-wrote “Hot Rod USA,” which Melcher then put on an album he and Johnston were co-producing called “Three Window Coupe.” (Any conceptual resemblance to the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” was entirely not coincidental.)

“Three Window Coupe” was credited to a group called the Rip Chords, although Melcher and Johnston apparently did most of the singing in the recording studio, and the L.A. session players known as the Wrecking Crew provided the music. Having recorded the album, Melcher needed an eye-catching sleeve for it, so naturally he called his friend Guy. The resulting cover shot featured a hot-rodded Ford V8 parked incongruously on a beach, garnished with a surfboard and the putative Rip Chords, ogling a comely young lady in a bikini.

“Columbia Records loved it,” Guy recalls.

This was his first album cover. Little did he realize that this would be the format where he would make his biggest mark on the culture.

Like Bobby Darin, Guy straddled the fault line between the glamorous Hollywood of the ‘50s and the trippy counterculture of the ‘60s. He would make the scene at the Whiskey a Go Go, a new discotheque on the Sunset Strip, where rockers like Johnny Rivers ruled the roost; but he also frequented the old-school Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Wilshire Boulevard, where he had been introduced to Bettie on a night when he was there with “Moon River” and “Pink Panther” composer Henry Mancini, a family friend. The 1960-64 period represented an overlap between these two eras, and Guy had a foot in each camp.

Nevertheless, he saw where things were heading. The new generation was getting ready to take over, and he would be on hand with his camera to record the transition. But nobody yet knew how cataclysmic this particular transition would turn out to be.

 

COVER BOY

The Rip Chords’ biggest hit single was “Hey, Little Cobra,” with Terry Melcher, uncredited, on lead vocal. It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on Feb. 8, 1964. One day later, the Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and the world changed, practically overnight. When the Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl in August, Guy was there, looking on from a premium box as a guest of the elderly gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, of all people. She scored the tickets, but he brought the credibility.

“I was the hot photographer in the music business, and so she invited me to come with her,” he says.

Guy couldn’t hear much music that night, due to all the screaming by the teenage girls in the audience. But he could see everything quite clearly, and he knew he was looking at the future. Hot rod rock soon went the way of the Dodo, and “Three Window Coupe” made no headway on the album charts, suddenly dominated by British Invasion groups. But American rockers would soon regroup, with help from a new wave of hip, young producers, one of whom would turn out to be Terry Melcher.

Doris Day was still the biggest female movie star in America in 1964, but her son’s contributions to mid-1960s culture would prove more enduring. Now a full-time producer at Columbia, Melcher had moved on from the Rip Chords to Paul Revere and the Raiders. Then he took on a new group called the Byrds, and produced their cover of a not-yet-released Bob Dylan song, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The single shot up to No. 1 in the spring of 1965, establishing folk rock as an alternative to British Invasion rock. For a time, the Byrds were hailed as America’s answer to the Beatles, and Melcher was the producer with the golden touch.

That summer, Melcher introduced Guy to another young producer, Lou Adler, who had just founded Dunhill Records. Adler asked Guy to shoot the cover for a new Dunhill album, “Eve of Destruction,” by a little-known singer named Barry McGuire. Guy posed McGuire in a manhole and shot him in black and white, to create a dramatic, gritty-looking image to go with the title song. Released as a single, it went to No. 1 during that epochal summer of ‘65, when rock ‘n’ roll matured into rock music, and “the Sixties” finally kicked into gear.

That fall, when it came time to produce the Byrds’ follow-up album to “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Melcher hired Guy to shoot the cover. Guy’s evocative, arty creation for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” earned him his first Grammy nomination.

People today much under the age of 40 cannot conceive how important album art was in the pre-digital era, and especially in the vinyl era, when LPs were physically big enough to give photographers and art directors scope for their creativity. Their work had a huge impact, because album buyers would hold the sleeves in their hands and stare at the cover while the music played in the background. This was a new art form, and a relatively short-lived one, much like the MTV music video of the 1980s. But album art was a very big deal in its day, and especially in the ‘60s, when the rock audience went supernova.

Chart-topping albums that might once have sold thousands of copies now sold in the millions, and every copy was a visual showcase for photographers like Guy Webster. Rock fans took their music very seriously as an art form, which meant that the album covers must be art too, and the people who created those covers must be artists. And so they were.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was just the beginning. That same fall, Guy created at least three other covers that remain iconic today.

For Dunhill, Lou Adler asked him to shoot the cover for the first album by a new group, The Mamas and the Papas. During the shoot in the group’s Laurel Canyon house, everyone got high together, to the point where Guy was no longer very steady on his feet. This was not the way he usually worked, but on this particular day it worked out well. When all four members of the group crowded into the bathroom at one point, inspiration struck.

“I said, ‘I’ve got it — get into the bathtub,’ “ Guy says. “I put the camera on a tripod because I couldn’t hold it.”

The resulting shot — John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty sitting in the tub, with lovely Michelle Phillips recumbent upon their laps — became the eye-catching cover image for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” the 1966 album that featured the monster hits “California Dreamin’ ” and “Monday Monday.”

Guy Webster's classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Guy Webster’s classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Meanwhile, Adler introduced Guy to the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who told him that the Stones would be in L.A. soon to record their album “Aftermath.” Would Guy like to shoot them? Yes he would, and shortly thereafter he found himself escorting Mick, Keith & Co. up into Franklin Canyon north of Beverly Hills for a photo shoot near a reservoir. One of these shots, featuring Brian Jones in vivid red corduroys in the foreground, provided the cover for the Stones’ 1966 album “Big Hits (Green Grass and High Tide),” while portrait shots from a later session in Guy’s studio ended up on the cover of their 1967 album “Flowers.”

Then there was Simon and Garfunkel. Columbia assigned Guy to photograph this up-and-coming duo for the cover of their second album, “Sounds of Silence.” He took them up to Franklin Canyon and captured the image that still endures: two young troubadours on a country road, looking back at the camera as they head uphill toward parts unknown.

After the shoot, Guy brought Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel home to meet his parents, and Simon brought his guitar from his car and played the album’s title song for Guy’s songwriter father, who loved it.

One might assume that by this point in the ‘60s, Paul Francis Webster’s day was done. Wrong. Paul won his third Oscar in 1966 for co-writing “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which also won the Grammy for Song of the Year, beating out the Beatles and “Yesterday.”

Around this time, Paul was hired to write the lyrics for the theme song of a new animated TV show, “Spider-Man.” Ever versatile, he came up with lines that would soon be imprinted on millions of young brains: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.”

In 1967, both Paul and Guy were nominated for Grammys: Paul for Song of the Year for “Somewhere, My Love,” set to the tune of “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago;” Guy for the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” cover photograph. Neither Webster won that year, but both continued to thrive. Paul remained a successful songwriter well into the ‘70s, outlasting the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas and Simon and Garfunkel. He died in 1984.

(For those who are keeping count, in addition to “Secret Love,” Paul’s other Oscar win was for “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in 1955.)

 

GO-TO GUY

By 1966, Guy Webster had established himself as a go-to guy for every record company in Hollywood, so it was hardly a surprise that fall when Jac Holzman of Elektra Records hired him to create the cover for the debut album by a new group Holzman had signed. What was a surprise, at least for Guy, was that when the band showed up at his studio for the shoot, the lead singer greeted him like an old friend. It turned out they had met years before when Guy was taking a philosophy class at UCLA.

“Guy, it’s Jim.”

“You know me?”

“Guy, we went to UCLA together.”

“Oh my God. Jim!”

It was Jim Morrison, much thinner and with much longer hair than when Guy had last seen him in the classroom. The group, of course, was the Doors, and the album cover, dominated by Morrison’s handsome face, would earn Guy his second Grammy nomination.

“The Doors” was released in January 1967, and by June the single “Light My Fire” was igniting the charts. This was the eve of the Summer of Love, and the Doors clearly were going places — but they would not be going to the summer’s inaugural event, the soon-to-be-legendary Monterey Pop Festival, which took place that same June.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

The festival was the brainchild of Guy’s L.A. circle — Lou Adler, John Phillips, Terry Melcher and others. The Doors, for whatever reason, were not invited to join the line-up. But Guy was invited to attend, in an official capacity. He had created the influential flowerchild image featured in the festival brochure, and he was there in person to shoot Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who as they passed into legend.

In the wake of Monterey, Herb Alpert invited Guy to head up the art department at A&M Records. Guy accepted, in part because he could see that rock was now becoming a big business, which meant more corporate interference with the creative types. Photographers like Guy would henceforth have less control over their work. But A&M as an independent label employed fewer suits and could allow Guy more autonomy.

In her 2009 book “Who Shot Rock & Roll,” the photography historian Gail Buckland described Guy Webster’s 1960s oeuvre as “part of the collective unconscious of an entire generation. The look of a Webster photograph is the look of the period; he took the photograph of the gorgeous, seemingly naked blonde in a pool of water with flowers surrounding her that was the centerpiece of the brochure for the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. He identified and isolated a look and an attitude, and then millions copied it. His photographic record of the sixties is as descriptive, in its own way, as Kerouac’s is of the fifties.”

During his rock ‘n’ roll heyday, Guy photographed an extraordinary range of notable recording artists. In addition to the above-mentioned legends, his subjects included Bob Dylan, Sonny and Cher, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Liza Minnelli, Nancy Sinatra, Chicago, Procol Harum, Nico, the Turtles, Carole King, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Rivers, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Captain Beefheart, Barbra Streisand, Earth, Wind & Fire, Randy Newman and Igor Stravinsky, along with many others.

(Local note: Guy created striking covers for the first two Spirit albums, both produced by Lou Adler. This band included former Ojai residents Ed Cassidy and his stepson Randy Wolfe, a.k.a. Randy California, along with future Ojai resident John Locke.)

One classic album cover Guy might have shot, but did not, was “Smile” by the Beach Boys, the projected follow-up to their classic 1966 album “Pet Sounds.” Nobody shot “Smile,” because the group’s resident genius, Brian Wilson, apparently had some sort of mental meltdown in the spring of 1967, and the much–anticipated album never came out, at least not as originally conceived.

Guy took many photographs of Wilson and the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s – he joined them on tour a couple of times, and he was there in the studio when they recorded the complicated vocal tracks for “Good Vibrations.” Brian Wilson paid tribute to Guy by writing the foreword to “Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons, The Photography of Guy Webster,” a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table book published in 2014.

“When Guy worked with us in 1966 and 1967 there were many different sessions with lots of different people on the dates, haunting the hallways,” Wilson wrote. “I was pretty focused on producing the music, so I was never certain where Guy was lurking, but man, he was right there.”

 

Webster's photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the "Who Shot Rock and Roll?" exhibit.

Webster’s photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the “Who Shot Rock and Roll?” exhibit.

INTERLUDE: HELTER SKELTER

Back in the day, the Beach Boy whom Guy was closest to was not Brian but his younger brother Dennis, the group’s drummer. And it was through Dennis Wilson — and Terry Melcher — that Guy began hearing about an aspiring singer-songwriter named Charles Manson.

Manson was a creepy ex-con with a harem of young female runaways, whom he shared with Dennis in order to worm his way into the Beach Boy’s confidence. Thus did Manson penetrate the Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll world — Guy’s world.

“I was invited to Manson’s party at Dennis’s house in Pacific Palisades,” Guy says. “I didn’t go, but I heard all about it from my friend Ned Wynn.”

Wynn, the son of actor Keenan Wynn and the grandson of actor-comedian Ed Wynn, reported that Manson and his “family” had served up a sumptuous feast and then announced to their guests that all the food had been foraged from garbage dumpsters.

Terry Melcher did not attend that party either, but he was introduced to Manson another time, via a person who had met him through Dennis Wilson. As a producer, Melcher had a professional interest in cultivating new songwriters. Some authors who have written about Manson assert that Melcher initially was intrigued by the charismatic charlatan. Guy says these authors are mistaken.

“Terry wanted nothing to do with him,” Guy says. “He was too spooky and scary.”

But Manson evidently saw Melcher as his ticket to the big time, and was angry when Melcher declined to punch that ticket.

At the time, Melcher was living with the actress Candice Bergen in a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. (Guy says it was he who originally had set Melcher up with Bergen.) Guy himself never crossed paths with Manson at that house, or anywhere else. But he recalls attending a small dinner party there during which Manson’s name came up. Melcher and Bergen had only three guests that night: Guy and Bettie and Melcher’s mother, Doris Day. Melcher told them that Manson had been to the house, and that he (Melcher) was worried about what might happen. So he and Bergen were vacating the premises.

“Candice and I are moving to Malibu,” Melcher announced.

The address was a secret, Guy says: “Only his mother and Bettie and I knew.” Nevertheless, Manson somehow got wind of this move. He knew that Melcher had left Benedict Canyon behind. But Manson evidently wanted to send the producer a message. (And perhaps to touch off an apocalyptic race war while he was at it.) On Aug. 9, 1969, he sent his minions to the Cielo Drive house to kill whoever was there — which turned out to be Sharon Tate and her houseguests.

Guy was camping upstate amid the sequoias with Bobby Darin and their families when the news came over the radio about the mysterious slaughter in Benedict Canyon, at an address he knew very well. It would be months before police identified the killers, but Guy already had an inkling.

“I had a cognition — it could have been Manson,” he says.

All Hollywood was terrified.

“It put a damper on the wonderful ‘60s,” Guy says. “Everything was peace and light, and then you had this monster unleashed on the public. It scared everybody. People armed themselves.”

Guy bought a guard dog to protect his family, and Bettie took to wearing a .25 on her hip. (They and their three kids lived in Beverly Hills, not far from Benedict Canyon.) Terry Melcher hired armed guards to provide around-the-clock protection for himself and his movie-star mother, lest there be further depredations by murderous hippies. But it was melanoma rather than Manson that eventually claimed Melcher’s life, in 2004. (Doris Day is still very much with us, at 92.)

“Terry and I stayed friends ‘till he died,” Guy says.

 

EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS

Having taken over the record industry, Hollywood’s longhaired Young Turks next made their move on the movie industry. Older stars like Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor made way for the likes of Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda — and Jack Nicholson, whom Guy met in 1968 on the set of “Easy Rider.” Guy by this point had developed a sideline gig shooting celebrities for the Los Angeles Times, so it was a natural segue for him to shoot what were called “specials” for the film studios. His book “Big Shots” features Nicholson on its cover and plenty of other film stars inside, alongside the rockers.

(For an analysis of Guy’s approach to portrait photography, see Anca Colbert’s “Art And About” column in the Summer 2014 Ojai Quarterly.)

Guy had come full circle. Having grown up within the Hollywood world, he had returned to it in triumph. Rock stars now outranked film stars in terms of cultural prestige, so actors like Nicholson were eager to be immortalized by the same photographer who had shot the Doors and the Stones.

The irony is that by this point in his life, Guy was getting ready to leave the Hollywood scene behind. He had been working hard since he was a teenager.  In 1971, he rented out his Beverly Hills house and took his family to Europe for what would turn out to be a very long break.

“I took off and I didn’t come back for five years,” he says.

Guy loved living in Florence and summering on Minorca, and he found plenty of professional work to sustain him in Europe. He also began acquiring Italian motorcycles at this time. But ultimately his marriage to Bettie foundered, so he returned to L.A. (and to Beverly Hills) in the mid 1970s to pick up the pieces. He got involved with the stylistically innovative WET Magazine (“The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing”), and he married the actress and model Leone James and began a second family. Which is what finally brought him to Ojai.

 

THE BRIDGE

Guy being Guy, the story he tells of how he and Leone got together is a long and compelling tale involving a Hollywood film premiere (“Superman,” 1978) and an ice-skating outing (with the Olympics gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, who later married Guy’s friend Dino Martin, a son of the film star Dean Martin who had given Guy one of his first motorcycles, but that’s another story). Suffice to say that he and Leone met, fell in love and began planning a life together.

“We didn’t want to raise children in Beverly Hills,” he says. They considered New Mexico and Oregon as alternatives. Then one day in 1979, Guy stopped off in Ojai while en route to Santa Barbara, and he happened to see the picture of a certain house on display in the window of a real-estate office in the Arcade. The house was on Reeves Road in the East End, and the driveway crossed a white bridge to get to the property. The bridge is what really caught Guy’s eye.

“I had a cognition,” he says. “I was supposed to buy this house.”

The house had started life as a barn on the old Soule Ranch (now Soule Park). Zadie Soule sold it circa 1948 to a Russian ballet dancer named C. Kahn Bashiroff, a Cold War defector who had settled in Santa Barbara and wanted a weekend home in Ojai. Bashiroff moved the barn to the Reeves Road lot and began converting it into a house. When Guy first encountered the structure three decades later, it still needed a lot of work. Undeterred, he bought it the very next day, and he and Leone moved in in 1980.

“We spent 20 years remodeling it,” he says.

At first they just spent weekends here. But the people they met in Ojai were interesting and the valley was beautiful, so they found themselves spending more time up here. “When the kids came along, we just stayed,” he says.

And so Guy Webster finally left Beverly Hills behind him for good, and put down roots in Ojai. His and Leone’s two daughters, Jessie and Merry, attended the Oak Grove School. Many friends from L.A. who came to visit were inspired to buy houses here too, he says, mentioning Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell and Peter Strauss among others. Meanwhile Guy continued to work as a photographer, commuting via motorcycle to his studio in Venice.

Thirty-six years have passed since Guy moved here, and he has long since become an Ojai institution. The girls grew up and moved away, but he and Leone remain. (No longer on Reeves Road, but still in the East End.) They have houses elsewhere and spend a fair amount of time on Martha’s Vineyard, but for Guy, Ojai is home.

 

ZEN, MOTORCYCLES, MAINTENANCE

Guy took a career victory lap in November 2014 when Insight Editions published “Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster,” which won much applause and several awards. But four months later he landed in the hospital for quadruple-bypass surgery. The operation on his heart was successful, but it triggered a stroke that put him in a wheelchair. No more tennis, no more golf, no more riding his motorcycles, no more taking photographs.

“But I can talk,” he says cheerfully.

He concedes that he wasn’t this chipper in the immediate aftermath of the stroke. Having led a charmed life for so long, he faced a difficult adjustment to his new reality.

“I was very depressed and angry, but I kind of thought that this was a lesson for me,” he says. “My life was so perfect from the cradle to the wheelchair. Now I had to learn how to live as an invalid.”

Not that he accepted that he would remain one. He made considerable progress toward recovery before a fall down some stairs put him back in the wheelchair. Now he is once again out of the chair and using a walker and progressing toward a cane. He hopes eventually to regain his ability to operate a camera, but he knows he may never again ride one of his bikes.

“It was like my church to get on a motorcycle and ride out into the wilderness,” he says. “To have it taken away was frightening.”

Guy says he relies on the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment to help adjust himself to his new circumstances. He has given up his photography studio in Venice, and he continues to sell off his motorcycle collection. But he has his wife and his children and grandchildren and his many friends, and he is content.

“I’ve always had Buddhist leanings, all my life,” he says. “You have to make the little things in life just as important  as the big things.”

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Spring OQ On Newstands Now

Mark Frost, Ojai resident and co-creator of "Twin Peaks."

Mark Frost, Ojai resident and co-creator of “Twin Peaks.”

The Spring 2016 issue of the Ojai Quarterly is now available. Featuring in-depth reporting, interviews and columns by Ojai’s best reporters and photographers, the OQ is distributed for free throughout the Ojai Valley, and is available at more than 40 Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores from San Diego to Scottsdale, Ariz.

A few highlights:

• The cover story focuses on Mark Frost, legendary screenwriter and author, the co-creator of “Twin Peaks,” the show which redefined what television was capable of as a medium. Frost and David Lynch, the other co-creator, are now shooting a “Twin Peaks” sequel, due for release in early 2017 through Showtime.

• For months, thousands of people have driven past the bustling construction site near the “Y” intersection. Demitri Corbin interviews the young winemakers from Topa Mountain Winery, along with owner Larry Guerra, on what they have planned for the exciting new addition to Ojai’s tastemaking scene.

• Joe Sohm, prolific photographer and historian, brings back a vivid portrait from one of the most hotly contested, and debated, primary seasons in history.

• And lots, lots more – with our usual complement of unusually talented correspondents – Peter Bellwood, Anca Colbert, Bennett Barthelemy, Jesse Phelps and Sarah Howery Hart.

 

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Fall OQ Has Arrived

 

Photo by Guy Webster

Photo by Guy Webster

Just in time for August’s final weekend, the Fall OQ has hit local newstands.

The latest iteration of Ojai’s local magazine is jam-packed full of features from our finest writers and photographers. We draw your attention especially to Mark Lewis’ followup to his Summer issue article on hotelier and conservationist Eric Goode’s plans for the school district HQ. The proposal for the 7.5 acres has sparked spirited debate – not only about the downtown parcel, but about the future of Ojai.

Anca Colbert’s profile of pencil artist Jeff Mann also touches on his glorious Hollywood career, as the go-to production designer who has created the looks of such masterpieces as “Star Wars.” And Jesse Phelps delves into the secret recipes of success of three local restaurants who turn 30 this year.

Look for this issue out this weekend in and around town. Or you can download the entire magazine at theojai.net. Spread the word.

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Summer OQ Hits The Stands

The OQ's Summer Issue

The OQ’s Summer Issue

The newest issue of Ojai’s local publication, Ojai Quarterly, will be available in limited release today. Look for it downtown through the Arcade and other high-traffic locations.

The cover features an important cultural milestone, the English language release of the beloved classic, “The Little Prince.” Ojai artist Alex Juhasz designed the puppet for the title character, and was involved as a lead artist in the $82 million production, which features an extended stop-motion animation under the supervision of his mentor and fellow Ojai resident, Jamie Caliri. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last week, and will go into wide release in November. The film will feature an A-list cast of voices, including Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard and James Franco. The story, by Jesse Phelps, focuses on Juhasz’s many other artistic endeavors, such as the creation of “The Babadook” monster for the Australian horror movie of the same name, considered by many, Stephen King among them, to be the scariest film in recent years.

Perhaps the biggest story of the issue, however, is the announcement by renowned hotelier and conservationist Eric Goode, proposing a major development for downtown Ojai on the site of the Ojai Unified School District headquarters. Mark Lewis reported this story, which includes an exclusive interview with Goode and his partner in the enterprise, Jonas Svensson.

The magazine also features the usual collection of work from Ojai’s unusually talented writers and photographers.

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Ojai Cars & Coffee

Ojai Cars & Coffee will take place the second Sunday of each month at Westridge Market from 8 to 10 a.m.

Ojai Cars & Coffee will take place the second Sunday of each month at Westridge Market from 8 to 10 a.m.

New Event Puts Shine on Ojai Sundays

Bring out your ride, show it with pride at Ojai Cars & Coffee, the second Sunday of each month at the parking lot by Westridge Market on East Ojai Avenue.

The new event brought out more than 20 cars for its first outing, and has been growing since. It takes place from 8 to 10 a.m. The next show will be July 13.

Whether it’s a mint-condition Lamborghini or a meticulously restored 1949 Dodge Street Rod, come out for the company of your fellow car enthusiasts, and to provide a delightful scene for passersby. For more information, you can contact the Ojai Quarterly at 798-0177.

By Demitri Corbin

At Earth Play, Oak Grove School’s annuel Earth Day celebration on April 19, the campus was packed!  It is here that artist Mike Saijo conducting the “Soft Machine Project;” inspired by the “cut-up-fold in” method devised by William S. Burroughs in his sci-fi novel, “Soft Machine.”  The SMP is designed to bring together science, education, design and community and has no intended resolution.

Working with the concept of “program art,” Saijo has made an open call to artists in Ventura, Santa Barbara and LA counties to submit works based on their personal experiences with spirituality within the Ojai Valley.  That experience is to be set on a hexagon.

I work my way around the campus and finally spot Porch Gallery curator Lisa Catoni.  She’s standing under the gazebo next to a large sandwich board-like rack where dozens of hexagon art pieces hang drying.  At two large picnic tables, 20 or so people of all ages sit painting their personalized hexagons.

“The response has been amazing!” Catoni says speaking over the clamor.

“Where’s Mike?” I ask.

She points to Saijo standing over the table assisting the students.  I beckon him over.

DC:  Wow, what a crowd!

MS:  It’s amazing!

DC:  Are you ready?

MS:   Sure, let’s go.

We sit at a small picnic table just outside the gazebo.  The festival crowd strolls by as we speak.

DC:  Since we last spoke I’ve taken a look at your website.  Lots of work.  Very impressive.

MS:  Thank you.

DC:  Looking at your bibliography prompted my first question – 2007, there seemed to be a lot going on for you.  Tell me about 2007.

Saijo pauses for a moment before a smile grows on his face.

MS:  2007 … Yeah, that was when I started doing solo exhibits.  Yeah, that’s when I started taking art seriously … having a solo show I got a lot of practice making connections, being able to work in these different studio spaces and I began setting in the discipline, making a commitment to the craft.  It was also a time when I was on the road with a carnival. I toured for 8 months from Los Angeles to Washington State and I remember passing through towns and being drawn to the history of places and nature and we were in Calaveras County and I just love exploring its history. I was looking for source material to make a book and I came to a fork in the road – am I going to be a carnie or an artist.  And I saw these horses in Reed California – I was at a crisis point – and I saw these horses coming from the distance … there was this connection to the horses, like they were there to give me an answer … it was a turning point.

DC:  Now I’m just going to ask you about some of the images I saw on the website that really resonated with me, so many striking images.  Let’s start with “Worker’s Resistance,” tell me about that one.

MS:  “Worker’s Resistance” is a still from Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis,’ set in the industrial era, the Machine Age, the man is struggling with Time.  I thought it was the perfect image for the book called, ‘The Unpopular Ones, The Stories of 15 Men and Women Who Influenced Popular Opinion.”

DC:  “Theater of War at the Orpheum,” from 2011; what’s the story behind that piece?

MS:  “Theater of War” was a part of the “Dream Deferred” exhibition, which looked at pre-war history in Boyle Heights.  That piece shows an incident during the Zoot Suit riots at the Orpheum Theater.  There were a group of Mexican-Americans in the theater and a group of Marines dragged them onto the stage, stripped them of their clothes and started urinating on them – you see how the violence was even onstage.  The piece first looks very seductive,  then you see the Marines are carrying sticks and the men don’t have their clothes and the true story is very disturbing.

DC:  And the piece, “Dreamed Deferred,” that of course struck me.

The piece is of the Langston Hughes poem written over a photograph a man in a Japanese internment camp.

MS:  Yes, with that piece Langston Hughes is able to express it in words.  Japanese are different.   They would use haiku, they’re very quiet.   I wanted to show that oppression is not an ethnic experience – it’s one that is shared.  It’s post-identity, it’s universal.

DC:  Tell me about WAVE Project.

MS: That’s a Virtual Reality project – I just shot some new footage for the exhibit, it looks great!  I got interested in exploring it 3 years ago.  I was researching 3D cameras, and the Oculus rift came along I began experimenting with it.  I’ve got one of the first to be released and I’m using it as part of the exhibit and so far feedback has been successful in creating a sense of presence.  Now that Facebook has purchased it, the bugs will be worked out before comes to mainstream.

DC:  “Diplomacy Art?”

MS:  “Diplomacy Art” came about as an idea of relational art … a way for entities, organizations to create art to communicate and serve diplomacy between countries.

DC:  You’re Japanese-American.  Tell me about family.  Do you have siblings?

MS:  I have one brother.

DC:  And your parents – were they supportive?  How did they influence and encourage your artistic growth?

MS:  I’m from East LA.  My parents are from Japan.  My mom is a calligraphy artist, so I was taught at an early age to use ink and brush.   My father grew up on a farm, so he was really strict.  Academics were the emphasis.  But I spent lots time looking at art books and watching television growing up.  Father built things and he’s a sailor.  Mom is not very supportive…you have to have a career, job, finances …I still struggle with that.  I’m a combination of the two.  My dad’s an idealist combined with all that knowledge acquired through eight generations of rice farmers … thinking spacially, numbers and structure, due diligence, planting a seed, just having faith.

DC:  Looking at your upcoming exhibits, you’re booked solid.  You’ve got two shows in April, you’re opening here in May through June at the Porch Gallery, another show opening down town Los Angeles on May 31 at the Breed Street Shul, then in June you’re showing here again at the Ojai Valley Museum.   How do you feel about all this activity?

MS:  It’s like a golden time with a lot going on.  I feel like I’m making up for lost time or it’s just the way the stars have lined up, everything falls into place.   I’ve got the show at Shol at the end of May, the museum show, and the “Soft Machine Project” here that’s going to USC.

DC:  How’s it going?

MS:  Oh, it’s going very well.  Young and old, people are responding to it really well.

DC:  One last question; can you give me your thoughts on Ojai?

MS:  Oh, there’s so much to say … small town, big vision, I don’t know.  Everything nice has been said already.  I feel Ojai has given me the type of opportunity I’ve been seeking … to tell a story related to its history.  It’s something I’ve felt strong about since and early age; sharing that gift to an audience, representing their story in an esthetic way.

DC:  Thanks Mike.  You’d better get back.

MS: Thank you.

“We Are Spiritual Machines,” works by Mike Saijo on exhibit at Porch Gallery, Ojai, 310 E. Ojai Ave. through June 29.  For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com.  For more on Mike Saijo visit msaijo.com.

Galerie 102Galerie 102 Opening:  A Conversation with Devin Oatway

By Demitri Corbin

Galerie 102 opens its doors Saturday, November 16 .  Gallery owner Jolene Lloyd inaugurates the gallery with, We Are One/We Are Many,  the works of Los Angeles-based artist Jon Rajkovich and Ojai artist Devin Oatway.    I sat down for a chat with Devin in his studio at his East End home.

Demitri Corbin:  You are one of the few other people I know who I had no idea was a gifted artist.  When I met you, you told me you had just discovered you had schizophrenia-

Devin Oatway:  I knew before then.

DC:  Did we know each other in 2003?

DO:  We met in 2005.  I was diagnosed 2003.

DC:  So, you informed me.   That brings me to my next question, the degree in English literature and creative writing.  How does that work with the visual art – does it inform or inspire your work; like with the J.D. Salinger stories?

DO:  No, it’s just the opposite.  It’s a rebellion against anything literary or musical, a rebellion against everything I had learned.  In 2003 my mind changed and I no longer read.  Before, I was reading thousands of pages a month.  Those short stories are the first thing I’ve picked up and read in years.  No, painting has always been my first impulse, ever since I was a child I would paint, draw.  As an adult I saw the Julian Schnabel film, “Basquiat” with uh…what’s the actor…

DC:  Jeffrey Wright.

DO:  That movie profoundly affected me and I knew I wanted to be an artist.

DC:  I’m glad you brought that up.  I was going to say I see in your work the influence of both Basquiat and Beatrice Wood.  Would you say that‘s accurate?

DO:  Well, Beato will always be considered the Mama of DaDa in the early 20th Century.  I grew up totally influence by her.  My mom is a collector.  Beato and Basquiat have greatly influenced me –

DC:  But at the same time have given way for you to express your own expression.

DO:  Exactly.

DC:  Tell me about the curator – who is she?  Is she both owner and curator?  How did she find you?

DO:  Jolene Lloyd.  She found me through OSA.

DC:  Does she live here?

DO:  Yes.  She’s been wanting to start a gallery for some years now.

DC:  I find it very interesting that hers is one of a few new galleries that are opening now that are also presenting emerging artists.

DO:  Yes.  I like Jolene’s style.  It’s more international rather than local; more on a wave of the art scene as a whole.  I like the gallery.  It’s small, about 600 square feet, lots of wall space.  It’s not cluttered with too much.  It’s like walking into a museum. DC: Now tell me about your work.  You have not been painting for very long and yet you have a nice resume of shows.  When did you actually start painting

DO:  Well, I really started painting in 2002.  I do pieces and give them to my friends or I’d just give them away.  Then in 2004 after my diagnosis, I started painting squiggly lines – you see this tattoo…

He shows me the tattoo on his left forearm.

DO: (con’t) I just started painting those.  I started reading Perry Mason stories.  I read them all, even though they were all the same, then I stopped reading altogether and I started painting.  My first show was in Austin, Texas where I joined an arts collective, Shady Lane Studios.  Then in Berkeley I started the Firehouse Art Collective.   I sold a lot of paintings and now that I’m prolific, I’m not as attached as I used to be.

DC:  How do you feel about all the acclaim?

DO:  I don’t know if I’d call it ‘acclaim,’ acclaim would be the L.A. Times!

DC:  Well, maybe acclaim is too strong a word, but certainly success.  Now, you’re paired with L.A. based sculptor Jon Rajkovich.  Have you met him?

DO:  No, but I like his work.

DC:  I think it’s perfect with your work.

DO:  Yes, I think it’s going to interesting for Ojai.  I’m curious to see what happens.

DC:  Do you have any pieces here?

DO:  No, the show’s already hung.

I take out my handout left over from the OSA tour.

DC:  Here, tell me what pieces are going to be in the show so I can look for them.

DO:  None.  It’s all new work.

DC:  All new work!!!  That’s wonderful! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see!

We end on that note and I head off to catch the encore screenings of Ojai Film Festival winners.

We Are One/We Are Many, the inaugural exhibit of Galerie 102 featuring the works of Jon Rajkovich and Devin Oatway.   Opening reception with artists is Saturday, November 16 from 5 to 8 pm at Galerie 102, 102 West Matilija St., downtown Ojai.  For more information visit galeri102.comor call 805-640-0151

 

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Porch Gallery & The Ojai Art Festival

The Porch GalleryAn interview with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni

By Demitri Corbin

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Part I

It’s 5 p.m. Saturday evening and I’ve slipped out of an Ojai Film Festival screening at the Playhouse to meet with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni, the proprietors of Porch Gallery at 310 E. Matilija Street.

I arrive to find a frenzy of activity!  Lisa is darting between the gallery and the makeshift auditorium outside the Modern Folk Living shop where a distinguished panel of critics, curators and artists are in discussion before a large crowd.  In the gallery I find Heather Stobo and, after determining that Lisa will not be available anytime soon, we decide to begin our interview without her, as Heather is not one of the organizers of the OAF, we can discuss the Porch Gallery.

We find our way to the back office and the piano bench of a baby grand.  Lisa and Heather are newlyweds, having married just a few weeks before this opening.

DC:  First, congratulations and congratulations.

HS:  Thank you.

DC:  Now, let’s start with the gallery.  I’ve been out of touch, so give me the gist – is this the opening?  Is this the official opening?

HS:  The official launch was a month and a half ago with MB Boissonnault, an L.A. artists, who’s landscapes are beautiful, haunting, and emotionally charged.   It was a partnership with Wallspace L.A., Valda Lake’s gallery in Los Angeles.  We wanted to start with something that was comfortable, yet different.  We’ll have rotating shows approximately every six weeks.

DC:  What’s next?

HS:  Well, we’ve been overwhelmed with putting on the festival and getting married, so right now December is up in the air.  But the first week in January we’ll have the work of Alexandra Cantle.  She does text pieces about dyslexia.  It’s very conceptual.  We want present contemporary art about serious matters.  We want to present something conceptual and thought provoking, not just pretty pictures.

DC:  This show and what you’re saying brings to mind the Nathan Larramendy Gallery that really made an impression on the community.

HS:  Yes, Nathan has been brought up to us before.  He was before our time, before Lisa and I had moved here.  We have gallery partners in L.A.  But we’re not trying to be an L.A. gallery.  We’d like to do events…pop-ups, musical events.

There’s something that’s nice about this place.  There’s something peaceful about the place – that’s warm and cozy and comfortable – not a sterile art gallery.  It’s a house.  We have a fireplace to hang art over.  You can see what it’s going to look like in your house.

As she says this a string of guests come walking through asking where the restroom is.

HS:  (pointing) Right through there.

DC:  And you get to tell everyone where the restrooms are.

HS:  I do want to say that we couldn’t have done any of this without Carl Thelander.  He’s the owner of the building and a true arts patron.  He’s been so supportive of the whole thing and all he asks is to be invited to the parties!

DC:  I do want to ask you about the other galleries that are opening up – which I love –

HS:  Yes, I do, too!  I figure the more the better.  There are different tastes out there, so the more, the better.  Better for Ojai.

DC:  Wonderful!  I think that’s good – look, just in time.

We rise to see that the gallery is now completely full and Heather dives into hosting mode.  I make my way through the crowd and down the street to Phillip and Gary’s weenie roast (don’t laugh), resolved to return later for my interview with Lisa.

Part II

It’s now close to 9 p.m. and the Porch reception is still going strong.   The baby grand now sits in a darkened room but the gallery, front lawn and porch are still teaming with guests who travel back and forth to the wine bar and the Jolly Oyster food truck parked in the driveway between the gallery and OYES.   I flag down Lisa amongst the crowd and we make our way to the piano bench and begin our conversation.  Lisa is exuberant from the success of the evening.

DC:  How did the Ojai Art Festival come to be?

LC:  I’m the marketing director of 49pm with Chris Ritke.  We partnered with his wife Uta Ritke to create the Ojai Art Festival.

DC:  Are they from Ojai?

LC:  Yes, it’s an Ojai-based company.   We were challenged by our business advisor to do something B-HAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal.  So we thought how do we put on something in a community that is already arts-centric.   We went around to all the organizations that are already putting on festivals and I approached Jamie Fleming and we talked about how to uplift the arts conversation, and we decided to do the festival as part of the Ojai Film Festival.  It worked out and we were fortunate to put on the Ojai Art festival with the OFF. Through our company, 49pm, we provide software tools to artists  and arts organizations called Entrythingy, and artists around the country used our software to enter their artwork into our show.

DC:  Tell me more about Chris and Uta.

LC:  Chris is the creator of 49pm and Uta is a graphic designer.  I do sales and marketing.  Uta has done the branding for the festival, she created the logo that you see all around town.   We worked 100s of hours to get stores, shops, and local businesses involved.  We have wonderful artists showing.  In addition, we included five featured installations that are all around downtown Ojai including a garbage tower at The MOB Shop built by Greg Prinz, one of the owners, a piece made entirely out of cardboard by Josh Short that’s in front of Modern Folk Living, a sculptural piece made entirely out of pieces collected out of trash containers from dumpsters all around Ojai by Joseph Umali Fernandez, an installation called Neighborhood Infusions where mulberries gathered in Ojai have been made into an infusion drink called Ojai Mullberry Rye and presented as a public participatory live installation by Fallen Fruit of Los Angeles, and a curated photographic installation by local Ojai photographer Enrico Natali.

At this point Heather enters the room, drink in hand.

HS:  Demitri, if you want to know what is Lisa’s complete inspiration – it’s me!!

We all laugh.

DC:  Let’s end it on that note!  Thank you!

We leave the darkened room and return to the festivities.

The Ojai  Art Festival is holding an international juried show of art from trash, discarded objects and materials. DISCARTED asked artists to work with trash, discarded objects and materials to raise questions and ideas, aesthetic and moral, about the life of the planet our wasteful society threatens.

The art will be shown in 50 shops, restaurants and galleries in Ojai from November 7 thru November 24, 2013. For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com or ojaiartfestival.com

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Porch Gallery & The Ojai Art Festival

OAf6An interview with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni

 By Demitri Corbin

Saturday, November 9, 2013
 Part I
 It’s 5 p .m .Saturday evening and I’ve slipped out of an Ojai Film Festival screening at the Playhouse to meet with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni, the proprietors of Porch Gallery at 310 E. Matilija St.
 I arrive to find a frenzy of activity!  Lisa is darting between the gallery and the makeshift auditorium outside the Modern Folk Living shop where a distinguished panel of critics, curators and artists are in discussion before a large crowd.  In the gallery I find Heather Stobo and, after determining that Lisa will not be available anytime soon, we decide to begin our interview without her, as Heather is not one of the organizers of the OAF, we can discuss the Porch Gallery.
 We find our way to the back office and the piano bench of a baby grand.  Lisa and Heather are newly-weds, having married just a few weeks before this opening.
DC:  First, congratulations and congratulations.

HS:  Thank you.

 DC:  Now, let’s start with the gallery.  I’ve been out of touch, so give me the gist – is this the opening?  Is this the official opening?

HS:  The official launch was a month and a half ago with MB Boissonnault, an L.A. artists, who’s landscapes are beautiful, haunting, and emotionally charged.   It was a partnership with Wallspace L.A., Valda Lake’s gallery in Los Angeles.  We wanted to start with something that was comfortable, yet different.  We’ll have rotating shows approximately every six weeks.

DC:  What’s next?

 HS:  Well, we’ve been overwhelmed with putting on the festival and getting married, so right now December is up in the air.  But the first week in January we’ll have the work of Alexandra Cantle.  She does text pieces about dyslexia.  It’s very conceptual.  We want present contemporary art about serious matters.  We want to present something conceptual and thought provoking, not just pretty pictures.
DC:  This show and what you’re saying brings to mind the Nathan Larramendy Gallery that really made an impression on the community.
HS:  Yes, Nathan has been brought up to us before.  He was before our time, before Lisa and I had moved here.  We have gallery partners in L.A.  But we’re not trying to be an L.A. gallery.  We’d like to do events…pop-ups, musical events.

There’s something that’s nice about this place.  There’s something peaceful about the place – that’s warm and cozy and comfortable – not a sterile art gallery.  It’s a house.  We have a fireplace to hang art over.  You can see what it’s going to look like in your house.

 As she says this a string of guests come walking through asking where the restroom is.
 HS:  (pointing) Right through there.
DC:  And you get to tell everyone where the restrooms are.

HS:  I do want to say that we couldn’t have done any of this without Carl Thelander.  He’s the owner of the building and a true arts patron.  He’s been so supportive of the whole thing and all he asks is to be invited to the parties!

DC:  I do want to ask you about the other galleries that are opening up – which I love –

HS:  Yes, I do, too!  I figure the more the better.  There are different tastes out there, so the more, the better.  Better for Ojai.

DC:  Wonderful!  I think that’s good – look, just in time.

We rise to see that the gallery is now completely full and Heather dives into hosting mode.  I make my way through the crowd and down the street to Phillip and Gary’s weenie roast (don’t laugh), resolved to return later for my interview with Lisa.

Part II

It’s now close to 9 p.m. and the Porch reception is still going strong.   The baby grand now sits in a darkened room but the gallery, front lawn and porch are still teaming with guests who travel back and forth to the wine bar and the Jolly Oyster food truck parked in the driveway between the gallery and OYES.   I flag down Lisa amongst the crowd and we make our way to the piano bench and begin our conversation.  Lisa is exuberant from the success of the evening.

DC:  How did the Ojai Art Festival come to be?
LC:  I’m the marketing director of 49pm with Chris Ritke.  We partnered with his wife Uta Ritke to create the Ojai Art Festival.
DC:  Are they from Ojai?

LC:  Yes, it’s an Ojai-based company.   We were challenged by our business advisor to do something B-HAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal.  So we thought how do we put on something in a community that is already arts-centric.   We went around to all the organizations that are already putting on festivals and I approached Jamie Fleming and we talked about how to uplift the arts conversation, and we decided to do the festival as part of the Ojai Film Festival.  It worked out and we were fortunate to put on the Ojai Art festival with the OFF. Through our company, 49pm, we provide software tools to artists  and arts organizations called Entrythingy, and artists around the country used our software to enter their artwork into our show.

DC:  Tell me more about Chris and Uta.

LC:  Chris is the creator of 49pm and Uta is a graphic designer.  I do sales and marketing.  Uta has done the branding for the festival, she created the logo that you see all around town.   We worked 100s of hours to get stores, shops, and local businesses involved.  We have wonderful artists showing.  In addition, we included five featured installations that are all around downtown Ojai including a garbage tower at The MOB Shop built by Greg Prinz, one of the owners, a piece made entirely out of cardboard by Josh Short that’s in front of Modern Folk Living, a sculptural piece made entirely out of pieces collected out of trash containers from dumpsters all around Ojai by Joseph Umali Fernandez, an installation called Neighborhood Infusions where mulberries gathered in Ojai have been made into an infusion drink called Ojai Mullberry Rye and presented as a public participatory live installation by Fallen Fruit of Los Angeles, and a curated photographic installation by local Ojai photographer Enrico Natali.

At this point Heather enters the room, drink in hand.

HS:  Demitri, if you want to know what is Lisa’s complete inspiration – it’s me!!

We all laugh.

DC:  Let’s end it on that note!  Thank you!

We leave the darkened room and return to the festivities.

The Ojai  Art Festival is holding an international juried show of art from trash, discarded objects and materials. DISCARTED asked artists to work with trash, discarded objects and materials to raise questions and ideas, aesthetic and moral, about the life of the planet our wasteful society threatens.

The art will be shown in 50 shops, restaurants and galleries in Ojai from November 7 thru November 24, 2013. For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com or ojaiartfestival.com