Today the Venice Paparazzi “Pass the Spotlight” shines on Venice local artist Frank Strasser.
Tell us about your business or art! How you got into it, and why it is awesome. I don’t come from an artistic family. So I guess I was blessed with a natural gift. I started drawing at 5 years old. In grammar school, I was a whiz with crayons. When I was 12 or so, I received a paint set for Christmas. Oil paints intimidated me at first. So I stuck to my pencils and didn’t pick up a brush for months. One day my Little League game was rained out. Finally, I broke out the paint set. I made a mess, but had a blast. That began a 50-year love affair with painting. In high school and college, I took a few art classes and dabbled.
At 21, I got a BA in English from LMU. At 24, I sold my ’67 VW Bug, quit my odd job and left for Europe. I worked on a boat in the Greek Islands and roamed around in nine countries, where I visited every museum and gallery on the map. I was awed by Monet, van Gogh and the Impressionists. I truly found my calling on a drizzly April day in Paris.
Back in L.A. I moved to the Venice Canals, where I’ve been painting for 40 years. I am self-taught. I learned to paint studying artists in museums and books, but mostly by sitting at an easel for hours, tuning into Muses and filling blank white canvases with color. As Picasso put it, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When I write, play music, or paint, I use my natural gifts to give my love back to the world and participate in what feels like a sacred, organic, reciprocal process.
What projects are you working on now, and what are your goals for the future? I am a one-man freelance art biz. I paint, market and promote my paintings and prints, pack art, ship art, keep the books, design, create and manage my own websites. To keep pace with advancements in cyber technology, I am currently designing a new website, which I’m truly excited about. I’m just starting on my first-ever painting of the Venice Sign and painting a commission for a high-school classmate from L.A. who lives in Maryland now. He found my art on Facebook and asked me to paint his childhood home with his Dad’s vintage car in the driveway. I love painting retro L.A. It’s an opportunity to explore my own deeply personal roots.
After 38 years, I’m moving across the country this fall. So I’m reviewing my life and in Venice, letting go of people, places and things, including paintings in my collection for decades. I just sold the first Venice Canal painting I ever did to a former Canal resident who lives in Palm Springs now but still loves the old hood. I just designed my last “in-residence” Venice Canalendar. I’m marketing the 2018 version and selling postcards of my Venice paintings. In his song “Mystic Man,” Peter Tosh sings: “I’m a man of the past, but I’m living in the present and walking in the future.” As I embrace my past, and release who I was, I’m becoming who I am.
For now, I mostly paint, but my first passion was writing. As I sort through 38 years of accumulated stuff preparing to move, I discover poems, snippets of children’s stories, screenplays and a book about coming of age in 1960s Los Angeles. I look forward to writing when I settle into my new environment and home. I feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, who wanted to escape the hubbub of his hometown and go to a quieter place to sit down and write his story. I’ll miss the Shire (and second breakfasts [Symbol]), but I’m excited to explore new terrain, experience the four seasons, be part of a family household with cool smart creative resourceful people and an awesome dog. I look forward to seeing a new quality of light, feeling a new vibe and painting a fresh local color. Just as Venice did when I moved here, a new atmosphere will profoundly influence my art. My childlike sense of wonder and love for the blue planet come out when I paint. The other day I told a friend that color is my religion.
Any achievements or accomplishments that you want to share? I got clean & sober in Venice. Twice! Two years 2005 – 2007. Eight-plus years starting 1/1/2009. I also partied like a wild man in Venice for 25 some years! I had ALOT of fun and wreaked ALOT of havoc. I learned to paint in Venice. I supported myself primarily as a freelance artist for 40 years. I served as art and music coordinator for an incredible Venice Centennial event in 2005. I worked with muralist Judith F. Baca at SPARC. I painted a fun Venice-themed mural at the Great Western Steak & Hoagie Company a few years ago as part of the Beautify Lincoln project.
I’ve also performed music in Venice for 40 years. I was blessed to gig with various legends, local and otherwise. I sang vocals with The Canaligators at dozens of shows. I wrote and performed an original antiwar song at the first Venice peace rally in protest of the war in Afghanistan. I assisted brilliant American essayist Gore Vidal up and down the stage stairs to speak at a political rally for Marci Winograd. In the quiet seclusion of my Venice studio, I worked with the brilliant Dr. David Ray Griffin and other remarkable people to cofound a political organization for actors and artists. I designed their website, helped coordinate a major event at City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, and wrote speeches for several presenters. A famous actor read one of my essays live on a stage in New York. That was cool!
I also worked with Ray Bradbury and the Venice Historical Society to help restore the Venice Colonnades. I wish we’d saved more of them…. Oh, and I dug dozens of holes and helped plant trees along Venice Boulevard, back in 1994. I worked on a project led by Jim Murez of The Tree People. All of those big, beautiful Sycamores between Pacific and Lincoln were 10-foot saplings taken out of wooden crates and planted by a small crew 30 some years ago. I have always loved trees. That was hard work but a lot of fun and helped to beautify the hood. I still think about planting those tiny trees decades ago when I drive past the huge Sycamores on Venice Blvd today. So that’s pretty cool too.
My art has been featured in The Venice Beachhead and Journal of the Venice Historical Society. Two of my images have been chosen for Artist Greeting Cards to raise funds for the Venice Family Clinic, including one for this year. And now I am blessed that Venice Paparazzi has offered me the 15 minutes in the glow of the local spotlight.
Right here in my hood, walking distance from my studio, I’ve snapped hundreds of pictures for tourists on various bridges in the Venice Canals and conducted dozens of impromptu Venice history sessions. I loved Venice with all my heart, working and playing as an artist and a human being in my four decades here.
What/who inspires you? Jesus, Buddha, Mother Nature, Art, Music, Books, Films, Muses, Animals and random people I meet every day. I especially admire people who do what they love and follow their truth no matter what..
Favorite affirmation, mantra, or quote. Oh man, I collect quotes, so picking one is a challenge. Here are a few personal faves.
“We’re all ignorant, except on different subjects.” ~ Will Rogers
“I believe in God, but I spell it nature.” ~ Frank Lloyd Wright
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” ~ Saint Francis of Assisi
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” ~ James Baldwin
“Whatever the question, love is the answer.” ~ Wayne Dyer
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~ John Lennon
“Art washes the dust from the soul of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso
“Without music life would be a mistake.” ` Friedrich Nietzsche
Favorite book, band or movie?
Books: A People’s History of the United States, Tao Te Ching, Siddartha, Autobiography of a Yogi, The Little Prince, The Razor’s Edge, As a Man Thinketh.
Bands: Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, CSNY, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and The Wailers
Movies: Wizard of Oz, Chinatown, All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, The Verdict, A Place in the Sun, Fargo, Quiz Show, Strangers on a Train, Stardust Memories, Apocalypse Now, Casino, Double Indemnity.
What causes do you support? I support any and all causes which engender: Peace, love, understanding, laughter, creativity, spirituality, respect for Mother Earth and preservation of the cultural roots of Venice Beach, California (and other funky arty hoods).
What’s one thing we can do to make the world a better place? Love our neighbors as ourselves, Share, Play, Pray, Meditate, Create more, Judge less…
Finish off the statement “Life is… The best drug on the blue planet.
What do you do on your days off? How do you treat yourself? I once read that William Faulkner divorced one of his wives because she didn’t understand that when he was just sitting on the couch looking out the window he was working. As strange as that might seem to some people, I understand Mr. Faulkner perfectly! And I don’t think he was joking. Being an artist, I do what I am. As I understand my job it is to observe the world around me and share my impressions as filtered through my level of awareness. So in any ordinary sense, I don’t really have days off. I do some of my best painting in between painting sessions when I intently observe my painting to see what I am missing while I am immersed in painting. At red lights I study palm trees or observe the interplay of sunlight on bumper chrome. When it might appear as if I am just a guy waiting at a red light, I am work inside my own mad mind.
Anything else you want to share about yourself to the world? While many have known me as a hard-partying, rock-and-roll guy who sings Blues, Doors, Rolling Stones … I have lived mostly alone as a sort of recluse or lone wolf for my 40 years in Venice, reading, meditating, praying, writing, painting, listening to classical music and jazz. When I first got sober, I was shocked to realize how shy I am underneath the rock show bravado. A few years ago, I was blessed to inherit a dog out of the wild blue. This incredibly smart, sweet Border Collie / Golden Retriever mix changed my life. Her vibrant spirit got me out into the world interacting with people more often, working less and having more fun. We walked through the Venice Canals every day. She passed away at 17-½ years old in November. Naturally, I miss her, but mostly I am grateful for the gifts she gave me. If you get an opportunity to adopt a stray or a shelter animal, DO IT! You will both benefit.
Describe Venice. Venice is radically unique. Originally conceived as a cultural mecca for the arts and haven for the well-heeled, it soon evolved into an edgy place with a squalid carnival vibe and disreputable reputation. Venice has always been the poor black sheep alongside Santa Monica’s squeaky-clean, comparatively upscale image. Venice was the hood you didn’t take home to mother. In the 70s, local shop owners listed Marina del Rey addresses rather than cop to doing biz in 90291. Much has changed over the years. Depending on your perspective, some changes are more welcome than others. Along with increased property values and gentrification also come upgrades and byproducts of progress that endanger the free-spirited heart and soul.
When I first started hitchhiking to Venice as a teenager in the 60s, the Boardwalk wasn’t “organized” yet. It was a sprawling flea market free for all. Beatniks, Hippies and wild-eyed entrepreneurs tossed down blankets, strummed guitars, hawked trinkets, dayglow doodads and paraphernalia. A guru named Swami X was the original street performer. A scraggly haired streetwise New Yorker, he held locals, tourists and slack-jawed onlookers spellbound, berating hecklers, reciting snippets of profanity-laced, overtly sexual, Beat-flavored, Zen-tinged poetry and spewing radical anti-establishment screeds in a rapid-fire Bronx staccato.
When I moved to Venice in the 70s, there was a nude beach and no heavy law-and-order presence. Sidewalks along the canals were crumbling, green and stinky in summer, but lined with cool wooden cottages where artists, musicians, dreamers and renegades lived. The local musical tribe gathered in vacant lots for informal jams. The Heathens, a rowdy biker gang, ran Hinano’s and The Sunset Saloon, (now The Terrace). My buds and I ripped that joint with live rock & roll music seven nights a week. Strolling home from gigs, I stumbled on a few bodies in the street. Back in the day, Venice wasn’t a well-scrubbed beach town for the squeamish.
In the 80s, something changed. Live music venues and cheap digs grew suddenly scarce. On the canal-adjacent street where I live, century-old craftsman cottages were sold, bulldozed and replaced by three-story boxes. A silent, deadly serious man I called Mister X rolled up every day in a sparkling Mercedes. Resembling a “man in black,” he checked his Rolex and gazed at his investment units rising up. Friends and neighbors I’d broken bread with for years were replaced by folks I’ve swapped no more than a few stray pleasantries within three decades. Right then and there, I could see that the old-school bohemian days in Venice Beach were numbered.
Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed to have hung on by the seat of my pants for another 30-plus years. Without rent control, I couldn’t possibly afford today’s going rents as a freelance artist. A “For Rent” sign across the street from my studio a few days ago offered a two-bedroom apartment for $4,600. A two-bedroom, one-bath home just went on the market for $4 million. At those rates, blue-collar working folks, artists and marginal types who formed the backbone of what Venice was for many years are being forced out of town. Suddenly, I’m one of them. I will leave town with love in my heart for what Venice, California, will always mean to me.
Describe your perfect day in Venice: (start from morning to night). I wake up to birds singing outside my studio window. I hug my loving dog and soulmate, Mandy. I brew a steaming mug of French Roast, pour it in a to-go cup and stroll with my girl over to the Venice Canals. We say “Yo” to surfers, yoginis and dog walkers. I pause to praise the muses and sip coffee from my favorite foot bridge. Billowing clouds float past. A hummingbird feasts on a trumpet flower. Palm fronds rustle in a balmy breeze. A kaleidoscopic mosaic of reflections dances in rainbow waters. Common Mallards, Snowy Egrets and Cormorants dive and hunt and squabble along the mossy canal banks.
Time vanishes as I paint for several hours, listening to Django Reinhardt, Miles Davis, Chopin, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Steely Dan … A friend calls, I continue to dab paint on my canvas while we catch up on the ebb and flow of our lives. I take a break from painting, whip up a few chicken tacos with avocado and kickass salsa, pour a tall frosted glass of sparkling water, sit on the patio with sweet Mandy at my feet. Sunlight filters through the leaves, making spectacular patterns of translucent chartreuse. A wind chime tinkles. I water the garden and funny little hummingbirds come by to splash and play in the hose spray.
I paint until sunset, then Mandy and I walk out to the end of Venice Pier. It’s a crystal-clear twilight. The sparkling movie backdrop of Los Angeles spans far and wide. The Hollywood sign is clearly visible in 3D lavender foothills. A gazillion lights twinkle across a twilit metropolis. The Ferris Wheel sparkles in a shifting prism of colors across Santa Monica Bay. Brilliant vermilion streaks light up a turquoise sky, a sliver of new moon and Venus shine as the sun sinks into the Pacific. Locals and tourists share a unified bliss.
A chorus of crickets in the deepening violet shadows welcome us home to the studio. I light candles, poach wild caught salmon, steam asparagus, listen to my dog softly snore on her favorite pillow, study my latest painting on the easel and feel truly blessed.
What are some interesting destinations/activities in Venice that even locals might not be aware of? Hidden Venice treasures? My hidden Venice Treasures are not obscure places, or wildly exciting. They are hidden in plain sight. A few of my favorite haunts are Venice Pier, bridges in the Venice Canals and any stretch of empty local beach in winter time. I have done much of my soul searching, inspired thinking and felt the most serenity in those three places listening to the gentle splash of waves and the rhythm of crickets. Even in an often hectic beach town like Venice, in the midst of a vast metropolis of several million people, it still amazes me that I can find genuine moments of pure solitude.
Favorite Venice food items, and from where? Most of my old haunts have been replaced by new joints I’ve never been to. I’m not the hip-hop-happening cat I used to be back when I was a hardcore bar-hopper and Hal’s regular for years. I loved the fries and just about everything on their bar menu. As for places still alive and well, tamales at Lula’s, seared ahi salads at the Library Ale House, Sushi at Hama Sushi and Kifune, any omelet at Maxwell’s. Pizza at Abbot’s, Taco Tuesdays at La Cabana and of course burgers at Hinano’s. So there you have it, I’m not a bona fide foodie.
Your favorite Venice event(s), activities or happy places? My three favorite happy places are the footbridge that crosses the Grand Canal at sunrise. The End of Venice Pier at sunset. Sitting on the Dell Avenue canal bridges after midnight
What is your craziest or fondest Venice experience? On July 4, 2005, Venice celebrated her Centennial. Out of the wild blue, a few weeks before the event, I was asked to help a local community group commemorate the 100th birthday of our city in the Venice Canals. I was newly sober. I’d never organized an event before. But what the hell?!?!? I suggested re-creating a day in the Summer of Love, our own local Woodstock. Incredibly, the entire community rallied and swung into action. People baked, barbecued, cooked homemade dishes. Local artists decorated and painted incredible signs and art. Several bands performed 8 hours of 60s music with a psychedelic light show. As music and art director, and a vocalist in The Canaligators, I was right at the heart of collaborating on a fantastic day of peace, love and music. 400 people showed up. Longtime locals called it the best EVER Venice party. It embodied what I consider the true radical, wild, free-spirited, loving heart of Venice Beach, California.
Anything else about Venice that you would like to say? I hope that artists will always feel at home in Venice, and find affordable places to live and work here.
Who should Venice Paparazzi cast the spotlight on next? Barbara Mastej, Vinnie Caggiano, Leon Rubenhold, Eric Vollmer, Robin Murez, Slavin’ David, Ronald Shusett, Linda Shusett, Suzy Williams, Margaret or Peter Demian.
FAN AND FOLLOW FRANK STRASSER
- Website: www.frankstrasserfineart.com
- Twitter twitter.com/FSFineArtist
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/franksterrocks
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/frank.strasser.9
- Other website: frankstrasserfineartshop.com
Support Venice Artists and buy art! Frank Strasser Fine Art collection is incredible. View links below!