Milla Angelina Gallery Opens on Gallery Row with a Foundation of Heart and Soul

As I walked into Milla Angelina's new space, the first thing to grab my attention, leering at me from the right wall as I entered, was a three-dimensional work entitled "Pimp God" by Hoyo Del Hoyo, featuring a long row of pimps dining at a table, each of them flanked by ladies.  A banner labels the sight "Pimp God" and indeed perhaps this evokes images of the twelve Olympian gods, indulging themselves on ambrosia and nectar, with those philanderers among them indulging themselves with nymphs as well.  Of course, this incarnation was much more modern, warped, profane.  The placement of this distinctive piece within immediate view upon entrance signifies the tone of the gallery as a whole - a little funky, a little abstract, thoroughly unique and contemporary.

Milla Angelina is Milla Zeltzer and Christina Angelina.  Together they curate all the shows seeking vibrant artwork from artists encompassing the spectrum of backgrounds, with special receptivity to work portraying social issues, as well as young talents seeking a forum for their art.  The dark circles under Milla's eyes juxtaposed with her warm, heartfelt manner were testaments to what a labor of love this gallery is, and all the heart and soul that has been poured into it.  Milla and Christina formed their gallery "to let Angelinos know about the creative pulse that beats under the traffic, the smog and the nightly news."  They thrived in their Melrose shopping district location, but are excited for their new, edgier home in LA's newly named Gallery Row.

This brand new 4,000-square foot space is characterized by high loft ceilings and bright white walls.  Vivid colors are rampant throughout the incongruous yet artfully arranged paintings and drawings.  The art gracing the walls is complemented by distinctive flower arrangements furthering the ambiance from their discreet corners.  Thick stems reach down into clear, solid geometric vases filled with polished stones, while far reaching green leaves and large sunflowers or birds-of-paradise stretch upwards to cast their shape against the walls.

The work ranges from a medley of graffiti art, urban contemporary art, and even a refreshing display dedicated to nature photography.  Some paintings seem to depict a frenzy of debauchery, while some are simple and pure in an abstract depiction of the female form.   On display was Ramses, who is also displayed at MOCA, LA, with his work marked by sharp contrast, subliminally reminiscent of a photo negative.  Also unique were Milliee's three paintings done on canvases, "Lady Jane 1, 2, and 3," earthy, fleshy, female.  Risqué paintings included a nun lighting a cigarette behind a girl in the process of undoing her Catholic-school style plaid skirt.  Christina Angelina's "Chiquita Banana" was a feel-good fuchsia rug depicting two girls kissing, a heart with a happy face drawn inside it, and the word "Amore."  Some of her paintings were pixilated, changing the focus as you moved farther or closer to the work. 

I couldn't help but be drawn to Andrei Smirnov's and Carrie Gotch's nature photography, amazingly, remarkably untouched by Photoshop.  Softly lit photographs, depicting such simple, lovely scenes as reeds swaying in the wind, were suspended from the ceiling or actually arranged in stands of reeds, held up by discreet (appropriately-colored, wooden) clothespins.  The three-dimensional arrangement was framed on the bottom by a rustic branch, with straw scattered about the floor and a subtle fog effect created by dry ice.  Lavender was strewn about the reeds to touch the olfactory sense as well.  The goal with the exhibit was to create stimulation for all the senses, not just the eyes, and to conjure the enveloping calm of nature.

 

Upon expressing incredulity that the photos were truly untouched by Photoshop, Andrei Smirnov and Carrie Gotch urged me that it's all about capturing the right moment.  For instance, one of their photos, "Dune," was taken at Death Valley, after the duo had been driving all night and came upon a beautiful view early in the morning.  Another picture, "Serenity," was taken when they were driving from an inland direction toward an ocean sunset that formed a backdrop against silhouetted cattails.  Carrie was inspired by her husband's love for distinctive nature, as Andrei hails from Siberia.  Their pictures were all taken in Northern and Southern California; even the sand dunes resembling White Sands, New Mexico are actually in Death Valley.  All their photos embody a unique perspective, from reeds reaching up to the sky, to windswept cattails, with the likes of Thomas Kincaide's mastery of light translated to photography.

 

 

Mario Arteaga, a graffiti artist, led me through his work, which encompassed both spray paint and brushes - same technique, different medium.  Interestingly, a work with spray paint might take 8 hours, while a work with oil paint, which dries much more slowly, will take him 2 weeks.  He had works on display significantly larger than others, closet doors compared to paintings perhaps 18x24", and the smaller works - with oil paint - took longer.  He starts with a blank canvas, never drawing anything out, and proceeds with his three-dimensional vision.  He says unlike super realism and still life, in which you know the ending ahead of time, with spray paint, you don't know the ending.  In free handing "you do it fast and pull it out - if you think you just mess it up.  Thinking is bad!" says Mario.  He's no stranger to rapid, instinctual, flowing work, having worked on risky walls around the city. 

Striking work by the "Milla" of Milla Angelina was the Couch Set, two couches that fit together as a man and a woman.  Paint dripped, spray painted and glitter infused, these couches are like nothing you've seen before.  Yet they are not only decorative, but functional.  Milla explained the origins of these fun, funky, urban installations.  She came from Russia to Israel to Los Angeles, and partook in extra work like so many Angelinos.  She hated it, yet utilized it as fuel for the flames of her inspiration.  Enlightened to the Hollywood facades, she decided to represent a man and a woman on the front of these opposite couches.  The figures lounge facing each other yet not looking too eager - actors, cool but flirty, engaging, and completely insecure.  On the front of the couch is how they want to appear; on the chaotic back are their concerns, aspirations, weight ideals, and how they feel they must measure up, represented in pieces of pages and notes stuck to the back of the couch.  The woman is dark- haired and eyed, very curvy, almost suggestive of Betty Boop. Naturally not quite as well-versed on the male perspective, Milla made educated guesses and recruited her male friends to write things on the back, about skateboarding, Charlie Chaplin… any classic male attributes.  The couches are Hollywood pretentious, yet durable and usable.  The glitter is reminiscent of the sparkly pavement of Hollywood Boulevard. 

Deriving from an animator/cartoonist/illustrator background, Milla is drawn to grotesque stylized paintings that analyze people and push the limits.  Another piece of her work is the Bus Stop, the seat personally graffitied.  The back, rather than displaying an advertisement, is painted as if providing a mirror image of the backsides it is apt to support here in Southern California. Between these characters are the well-endowed buildings that sculpt our skyline.  Milla took buses to work at a bakery when she first lived in Los Angeles, and quickly learned the diversity of Southern California society.  She states, "You don't have to go from downtown to Beverly Hills to see a difference - you can dissect society right there at the bus stop."  Urban Jungle is a sample of those you might see at a bus top; a girl with a highly visible backside, representing Melrose and West Hollywood; a… plumber? representing suburbia, Orange County or the Valley; and a primped and pampered dog, representing, of course, Beverly Hills. 

Milla told me how some artists are so talented and aren't given the time of day.  She and Christina came to own their own gallery out of that anger, passion and frustration that give rise to a "do-it-yourself" mentality.  They funded the gallery themselves, and recognize the inherent subjectivity in art appreciation.  Milla confided even the Webster's definition of "art" concerns the expression of the whole heart and soul, transcending any particular school of thought.  They might be approached by ten portfolio-toting artists a day, and are well known in the underground art movement.  The hard work and dedication on the part of every contributing artist there was clearly evident.  

Also making an appearance at the opening to accompany the hors d'oeuvres was noteworthy product Hpnotiq, an intoxicating blend of vodka, cognac and tropical juices.  Art enthusiasts got to enjoy aqua seafoam-colored drinks that tasted as ethereal and appetizing as they looked.

The event benefited another artistic outlet, SoundArt, a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization that offers contemporary musical training and exposure to popular music studies for youth in the underserved areas of Los Angeles.  The SoundArt mission is to encourage creativity, responsibility and self esteem to underserved LA youth through musical programs. 

The Milla Angelina Gallery is located at 729 S. Spring Street in Los Angeles.  For more information, check out www.millaangelina.com

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