Change of heart, change of art

They are hung and I am sprung.

I was scarfing down an overflowing plate of Chicken Tikka Masala when Jelani (our fearless leader here at Pop Ellay) slid his phone across the table and asked, “What do you think of this guy’s art?”

Vakseen: Today's The Day I Realized

Face it, haters: Vakseen’s ‘Today’s the Day I Realized’ is gorgeous.

Slightly annoyed that I had to put down my naan, I picked up the phone and began scrolling through the images. It was then I realized I could scroll with one hand and continue forking food into my gaping maw with the other. “Mmm…I don’t like it,” I said behind a mouthful of chicken and rice.


Whatever, some guy on Tinder.

“Why not?” Jelani asked in his always even, non-judgmental journalist tone.

“Umm…I don’t know. Just don’t. It kinda bugs me. Now what do you think of this guy I met on Tinder? He doesn’t have a job and has to blow into a breathalyzer to start his car. But he’s 6’2”!”

Fast-forward a couple months later and I found myself out with Jelani yet again. But on this night we weren’t at a hole-in-the-wall Indian joint and I wasn’t sporting elastic-waist pants for more efficient gorging. We were out on the town immersing ourselves in LA’s art scene, gallery hopping from the Culver City Art Walk to a graffiti exhibit in Hermosa Beach and then finally landing at an event in DTLA.

This is not an uncommon Saturday for Jelani. For me, however, it was a crash course in LA art and I was simply trying to keep up.

I enjoyed everything I saw to varying degrees. But as I admitted in my first post here on Pop Ellay, I know little to nothing about art. Like a 1-year-old, not yet able to speak, I pretty much just point at bright colors and shiny objects and follow that up with gurgling sounds and spit bubbles.

By the time we reached downtown, the previous five hours were a swirling blur of paintings, sketches, graffiti, light, dark, abstract, realism…my eyes were beginning to cross and my pointing finger was tapped out.

“I think you’ll really like this place,” Jelani reassured me as we traversed the downtown sidewalks, bobbing and weaving our way through hipsters, yuppies, homeless people and dog walkers.

Realizing Jelani was sensing my art fatigue, I mustered up a smile and proclaimed, “I’m excited!”

We reached the front entrance of The Hive, a hip gallery that doubles as a permanent exhibition space for artists who apply and are accepted as residents.

The mass of trendy art-goers clad in all black, vaping and using intimidatingly relevant lingo outside the front door made me realize that thanks to Jelani (my art world Gandalf), I’d reached the upper echelon.

The Hive is roughly the size of a gymnasium and the front area is set up like a traditional gallery. However, as you make your way back, you suddenly find yourself meandering down a makeshift hallway. On either side are nooks where the resident artists display their work.

Each wall of each nook is designated to an artist, so within one area, you’re taking in the work of three different people.

This particular night was quite an event. Music poured from speakers, art lovers swarmed the cramped spaces and many of the artists were present — some chatting with us mere mortals as others stood back, watching us take in their work.

Right as Jelani and I made our way into the artist area, he was stopped by a familiar face. I stood back as the two men shared a big bromantic hug and caught up for a minute. Based on their chit-chat, I could tell this guy was an artist. Jelani introduced me, I pretended to hear the guy’s name, shook his hand and we moved on.

Then it happened. A few nooks in, I found myself staring at a wall displaying the most vibrant, eye-catching, brain stimulating, soul capturing pieces I’d ever seen.

Vivid yellows, greens, blues, reds and purples sprang off the wall. Abstract faces with ruby red lips and painted eyes stared out at me. “Vivacity personified,” I thought, my mouth agape.

“What do you think of these?” Jelani asked, snapping me back to reality.

I pointed and gurgled furiously. Wiping the spit bubbles from my lips, I stuttered, “I- I- I LOVE them!”

You’ve seen them before.”

“What?! Where?!”

“They’re the faces I showed you on my phone that night over Indian food. You know, the ones you hated.”

Right then the artist entered the nook. It was the guy whose name I’d pretended to hear when Jelani introduced us just ten or so minutes before. Hoping beyond hope he hadn’t just heard Jelani say, “You know, the ones you hated,” I went back to staring.


This statue in Brussels, Belgium expresses a universal truth. [Inner Self]

A while later, after making my way through the rest of the nooks, I found myself back at the faces. But by accident this time. I was trying to avoid my date (Oh, was it not clear I’d had a date with me this whole time? And no, not Jelani) who had started to annoy me after publicly urinating in a parking garage near The Hive. As if that weren’t bad enough, it happened to be the world’s longest pee — the pee that wouldn’t end. But that’s a story for a different day and a different blog.


So, to break free from him and his attempts to hold my hand (I knew where that hand had been), I sauntered into the nearest nook and there they were — those faces.

Within a minute or so, the artist mosied up next to me. My worst nightmare — having to attempt intelligible conversation about art with someone who actually creates art, as we stand in front of his art.

My hands went clammy and my mouth went dry as I scrolled through my mental database of adjectives, art lingo and smart sounding words. I gripped each side of my dress to keep my fingers from wildly gesturing like Koko the sign language gorilla. But before I realized what was happening, I looked up and found that I was in the middle of a very natural, easy flowing conversation (What? Like you don’t black out from anxiety only to come to and find yourself chatting away with a complete stranger).

After awkwardly asking him to repeat his name despite our previous introduction, I learned he goes by the pseudonym Vakseen. He was warm, quick to laugh and lacking any sign of pretense or smugness despite his obvious talent. I quickly admitted to my numerous and vast gaps in art knowledge and he shrugged it off, instantly putting me at ease.

During our conversation, I learned that his style is called Vanity Pop and his pieces are collage influenced. They are paintings but resemble collages down to the most minute detail. He pointed out a few of these deceiving details — brush strokes executed so masterfully your eye is certain the corner is folded, further adding to the illusion of a magazine cover.

I could tell he takes great pride and gets much amusement in tricking his viewer. But not in an elitist, “You’re such a dumbass” way — in a jocular, good humored way.

His personality matched his art; exuberant, smile-inducing and appealing — but still real. A tough combination to achieve.

About 20 minutes later Jelani made his way into Vakseen’s nook. “I think we’re about ready to go,” he said.

“Oh, okay. Let me just find my date.”

“He left,” Jelani announced.

“Welp, that takes care of that awkward conversation,” I thought, the sound of him urinating in the concrete parking structure echoing through my mind.

I went home that night completely inspired and excited. I honestly could barely recall any other art I’d seen during that 8-hour marathon aside from Vakseen’s. I walked into my apartment and began surveying my walls.


The swank West L.A. branch of Birdhouse Press.

So much of what I have hanging is sentimental in one way or another. There’s the Jaws movie poster above my desk, a nod to my love of sharks. Next to it, a framed magazine clipping featuring John Updike, my favorite author. Above my television is my gallery wall where hang two American Airlines travel posters — one of London and the other of New York City, two places I love and have lived. I took them from my grandparents’ house, so their sentimental value is two-fold. Between those I have a framed photograph of a bull shark taken by a dear photog friend and a lovely poster by the Jewish Relief Organization from the 1940s. At the end of this wall hang a few more items that hold meaning of their own in one way or another.

The rest of my walls display more pieces I took from my grandparents’ house along with artistic souvenirs I picked up throughout my travels. A black and white photo of Galveston Island from the early 1900s, a colorfully painted license plate from the Bahamas, a clock I found in a thrift store somewhere that reads Pico, coincidentally, the name of the street I live on.

Then there was my one big piece. Hanging over my couch, spanning five or so feet wide and long was a black and white poster of Piccadilly Circus with one red double-decker bus in the foreground. I bought it right after I got my first “real” job post college graduation. I’d just moved into a new apartment and needed furniture to…well, sit on. My mom had offered to take me to Ikea but I wanted to make the purchases on my own.

For the sake of feeling like an adult and so I could pick out exactly what I wanted without the influence of her offering to pay.

I picked out a red leather couch and an armchair clad in an orange and red tropical flower print. I was gleeful. As my friend and I were traversing our way through the bottom floor of Ikea, we stumbled upon the art area. And that’s when I saw the seemingly so hip and cool poster. Not only did I love it aesthetically, I also gravitated to it because of the fond memories I had of my time in London. Plus, the red bus would go so well with my red sofa! If that’s not adulting, I don’t know what is.


The London poster, gone but not forgotten.

This giant poster has been with me nearly ten years and hung on the walls of three different apartments from Texas to California. And after my mom insisted I replace my old sofa and chair last April, it’s also the last remaining survivor from my first Ikea trip as a financially solvent adult.

But that night, after gazing upon Vakseen’s vivid visions, my London poster suddenly seemed so…generic. Maybe it’s because it was a mass produced Ikea poster or maybe it’s because I’d been transformed — who can say for sure? I just knew I needed those faces on my wall.

The next morning I woke filled with the same enthusiasm and excitement — and desire to make those faces mine. Relieved I hadn’t just been drunk on free art gallery wine, I hopped online and began scrolling through Vakseen’s art.

After a day of going back-and-forth, hemming and hawing and sending images to friends to get their opinions, I finally settled on two — Layers of Eminence and Ulterior Embellishments of a Covergirl. Just as I like bright, I also like big — what can I say, I’m from Texas. So I purchased each in 36”x36” prints.

Holy crap was I excited. I felt like a kid anxiously awaiting Christmas as I waited to receive them then spent two weeks pacing my apartment while they were getting framed.

But that gave me time to figure out exactly where they’d go. You see, I don’t really have all that much spare room on my walls — especially considering the size of the prints.

The only logical place was over my couch — where my looming London poster hung. But then where would it go? It’s huge. And God knows my one-bedroom apartment doesn’t have the closet space to store it. Then where would my shoes go?

Someone — who shall remain anonymous — suggested I throw it out my window. But that thought made me sad — oh, and chucking a 5’x5’ poster out your second-floor window is probably against the law or something.

I felt I’d outgrown my Ikea masterpiece but I didn’t want to simply discard it next to the dumpster — after all, we’d been through a lot together. A cross-country move, boyfriends, break-ups, me dancing around my living room to 90s music in nothing but a towel.

But then the day came when Framing Solutions called to tell me my pieces were ready for pickup.

“I’ll deal with that stupid poster later,” I thought as I skipped off to pick up my bundle of joy.

As I lugged home the collective six square feet of art, complicated hanging instructions swirling through my head, my Ikea poster was suddenly looking prettier — or at least lower maintenance.

The next day Jelani came over after I’d bribed him with the promise of Indian food in exchange for helping me hang my new wall porn.

Standing at the kitchen counter snacking on chips and salsa, I watched as Jelani removed my mass-produced first love and leaned it up against my coat closet. (Oh yeah, by “Come help me hang,” I more meant, “I’ll pretend to help in a way that really just hinders until you tell me you’ve got this). After meticulously measuring, marking and remeasuring, the faces were up. And again, I was gleeful.


Lindy Kirk, art aficionado.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. “They make me seem so much cooler than I really am,” I told Jelani, who was in the corner wiping sweat from his brow and guzzling water. Strange, I wasn’t hot at all.

A few minutes later another friend came over, as the three of us had plans to hit another art gallery that evening. He, too, gazed at my wall. You can’t help but gaze.

As we started to leave, he said, “Hey, what are you going to do with that?” pointing at the black and white image of Piccadilly Circus, leaning on its side against my closet doors.

I shook my head, “I don’t know. It’s so big and I don’t know where to put it now. But I don’t want to just throw it away. Any chance you want it?” I asked, half kidding.

“Yeah!” he said. “I’m getting ready to move into my new place and I don’t have much to put on the walls.”

And just like that, my trusty sidekick found a new home. I still think of it from time to time but I know it’s in a better place where it can be truly appreciated. Plus, my friend said I’m welcome to visit any time.

Since my new art took its place above my couch, I wake up each morning, walk into my living room and smile. When I stand up to cross the room, I pause, turn around and gaze for a few moments. As I eat dinner standing at my kitchen counter, my eyes are no longer focused on the TV. Rather, they are glued to the opposite wall — to those faces.

To put it simply — they are hung and I am sprung.