Marsea Goldberg is the owner of New Image Art gallery in Los Angeles. For 15 years she has been showing the work of some very notable artists and is an important part of the history of this as-of-yet-unnamed art movement. I met her in 2000 and New Image Art became one of the first galleries I showed at. Over the years I have seen some beautiful shows at her gallery- Swoon, Herbert Baglione, The Date Farmers, Alex Kopps and Ed Templeton come to mind but the list goes on! Here's to 15 more years! -Jeff Soto
Interview with Marsea Goldberg, by Jeff Soto, January 2009
Jeff Soto: New Image Art celebrates it's 15th anniversary in January 2009 (click here for photos), and I've known you for half of that. I don't really know much about the years prior to 2000. Before we talk about the gallery, there's a couple questions about you! I know you went to U.C. Santa Barbara and got an art degree, what were you like back then? Were you a wild art school chick?
Marsea Goldberg: Of course I was a wild art chick! The wildest!!!! Would you think any differently???
I lived on the beach with other artists. When we first moved into this apartment there was a copy of "On the Road" by John Kerouac on on the floor of the closet. On the first page was written,"all who live here must read this book and leave it for whomever comes next". That epitaph was my intro to what was to follow...
My art pals and I hung out in the foundry of the art department all hours working on sculpture or I painted alone for hours in the studios on campus. I was a total art nerd. At UCSB I rode horses on the beach, swam with the UCSB swim team, was in a bunch of art films where I was a vampire, took lots of ballet, smoked a little pot, watched lots of foreign films, studied art history and made the dean's list.
If I got thru early from classes I would ride my bike to the end of Campus Point Beach and study with only a bikini bottom on hidden in a sand dune! I was very tan!
J: Is that when you started surfing?
M: I did start surfing at UCSB but I was not very good at it. Most of the really good women surfers were lesbians then! I was the girl on the beach in the bikini reading while my boyfriend surfed. Then I finally got the idea that I could surf too!
J: So how did you wind up in L.A.? Weren't you a textile designer before you opened New Image Art?
M: Well now we are getting really personal. But I guess - my life is an open book! I ended up getting a fantastic art dealer while I was living in Santa Barbara after college. Her name was Ruth Schaffner. She had a gallery in SB and LA. She stumbled into my studio when everyone in my building had a party-art -opening and wanted to meet me. I was drunk but someone found me and Ruth started buying my work that night.
She was German and super well connected. She was very old in her late 70's when I first met her and she died at 86 or 87! She was best friends with Betty Parsons, Holly Solomon, Elaine de Koonig, and Peggy Guggenheim hated her because Ruth had a love affair with her famous husband- Max Ernst. Ruth was married 6 times. Was off the hook glamorous and brilliant. I become her protege. She was a photographer who showed at Alfred Stieglitz Gallery and was featured in the book "Family of Man". She worked with the Arbuses' at Vouge and hung out with Humphrey Bogart and Duchamp. She died on the way to her gallery with her boots on in a golden Jaguar! She was like my mother to me so it was a terrible loss. Especially since my own mother died when I was 19.
At that time I ended up sharing an art studio with a crazy-surfer-artists from creative studies UCSB via NYC and a realist who painted birds. This other surfer- skater- artist guy came in and started bugging me. I was a very serious painter and did not want distractions from anyone let alone an annoying artist. A long story short we fell in love eventually after being friends and I commuted and lived in SB on a boat in the harbor and in LA. with him.
I hated LA at first and moved back to SB then finally settled in LA when we got married. My husband literally kicked me out of the car on Melrose and said - "Get a Job."
So I did! A long story short I started designing for a store on Melrose since I was a painter and then got a job working as a custom fabric painter with a bunch of artists in downtown LA. Then from there I got an in-house job as a designer and had too much energy to sit in an office. So I ended up become a freelance designer for almost all the surf wear companies at that time. I had it going on! I still make textiles designs for my friends and myself and just did a print for RVCA, surf trunks.
J: Wow, one of my all time favorite painters is Max Ernst, that's crazy! Ruth sounded like a pretty cool lady, and I'm sorry to hear about your mother. So you settled into L.A. and decided to follow in Ruth's footsteps? When did you have the idea to open up a gallery? How did it go?
M: Yeah - thanks. No, not at all, I was an artist and never ever wanted to be a dealer- so I thought. But I would visit my friends studios in NYC and they were so talented and shy that I tried to help them. I would take their slides around and try to get them shows because they were retarded and never talked to anyone. I always had jobs where I worked with many artists. I would curate myself and my friends in downtown LA clubs and everyone was so thankful to be in a show. I had amazing shows in my backyard and in my studio in Hollywood. I guess I loved throwing parties and art was an excuse to make it happen.
I knew how to connect people and art but I did not want to be a dealer!!! I wanted to be an artist and paint my life away. My X and friends cleaned out my design studio and put up their art and that is how the gallery started. I showed myself and friends and then it just snowballed and took over my life! I started in a 10' x10' room with $150 rent! I thought it was never going to last- it was just an art project and now 15 years later I really created a monster!
J: Well I think that's one of the reasons you've shown so many mind blowing artists over the years- being an artist yourself, you have an artists' eye and you can relate to our quirky/weird side. It's interesting to hear about New Image Art's humble "DIY" beginnings. How did you decide on a name?
M: I did not name the gallery! It is a long complicated story but I have grown to like the name but was not into the name at first. When the gallery first began it seemed like another crazy art project that would go away... I did not want to be an art dealer!!! Now I have become one from doing it for so many years but it was never one of my goals like being a surfer or painter or designer was. The name is from an art movement that happened in NYC during the 70's, "New Image Art". I did not want to be on the other side of art but here I am.
J: The first time I came in I saw artwork by people like Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Shepard Fairey, the Clayton Brothers, Rich Jacobs, and more. It was amazing and there was nothing like it in L.A. We had La Luz de Jesus and Merry Karnowski that were showing related but very different genre of art- nowadays some would call it "Low Brow" or "Pop Surrealism". You chose to show the work of graffiti artists, mural painters, skateboarders, surfers, and street artists. What draws you to these artists?
M: I always related to their humor and technical skills, political bent and community.
They were working as a community and a very tightly knit group for the most part. They have lots of respect and admiration for each other which came out of their history as skateboarders, zine makers, and street- graffiti peeps. They were not about money. It was very underground and only the insiders got it at first. Their work was not about ego or the right kind of art supplies it was down to earth and accessible and outside of the regular art world. They all have a unique style of drawing, calligraphic and tightly drawn, pensive while having a youthful freedom. I just knew they were the future of art and the foundation of a generation and a new movement of art.
This group of artist are super intelligent without trying, they just are. They know really cool music, when the surf is up and where to skate. Their lack of pretension is refreshing compared to the real "fine art" world that was running the scene at the time but I did not really relate to or felt a part of.
J: Yeah, I love the sense of community they have, a real solid group of artists. There were two huge losses in this artistic community, the untimely passing of artists Margaret Kilgallen and Rebecca Westcott. I never got to meet Margaret but I had known Rebecca and shown with her and Jim Houser at New Image Art. When I heard the news it really affected me, I can only imagine how terrible that must have been for her loved ones and people that knew her well. You knew them both well, and not to take this interview into a sad place, but can you tell us a little about these artists? I think people need to be reminded how important they are.
M: I agree with you totally Jeff. The loss of Margaret Kilgallen and Rebecca Westcott is a bit hard to fathom. When I first started to answer this question I was sitting in my bed and just started crying.
Behind me on the wall is a mural Rebecca painted of mauve continuous flowers growing out of an abstract stem. I left Rebecca and Jim Houser in my house to do whatever they wanted with some paint. Jim did a wonderful bunny-lifer and Rebecca did two murals- one on the wall behind my bed and one on the entire wall in my dinning room which was a work in progress. I am surrounded by Rebecca's imagery and I feel very fortunate to be so close to her art when home.
Margaret was 33 when she died of breast cancer. Her show at Deitch Projects -honestly could have been the best show I ever saw! She was very sweet and quiet while being feisty and brilliantly precise and witty. She surfed big ol' waves and inspired many women as an artist and surfer. I have a really vivid memory when she was painting the LACMA parking lot. She was on the top floor very very still figuring out what to do as the sun was going down. I had my dog with me who was just a puppy at the time and Margaret saw my dog and they both just started running together. She was like a beautiful lanky young girl, a beautiful lanky genius!
Rebecca was at my house once in front of my window and I saw the sun shine thru her, she was so fair and blonde and beautiful - I thought to myself this girl is an angel. She received a Pew Foundation Fellowship right before she was run over by a drunk driver at 28 while changing her tire. Rebecca like all of us was in awe of Margaret. Margaret was just so cool and her art so vast and unique. When Margaret finished painting the ICA in Philly, Rebecca used her left over paints to paint murals all over her and Jim's home. Crazy right?
The biggest loss about both of these brilliant women artists is they both had so much more to do and art to make. I heard Rebecca is having a show at the Smithsonian in DC. And I am waiting for Margaret to have a solo show at MOMA, I hope it happens soon. Because we need to see her work again and again in it's full glory.
J: It is very sad but it's good to keep the memory of these artists alive. I saw the Margaret/Barry show at the Hammer and though I was very aware of their work, seeing the size and scale made me think about art in new ways. There have been many artists pass through New Image Art that have made me rethink art. Rich Jacobs comes to mind, The Date Farmers, Taylor McKimens, Anthony Lister, they've all been fun to watch and see what they do next. Probably the most controversial artist you've shown has been Neckface. Some people love him, some people hate him. I tend to love his work, not so much for his technical skills, but for it's rawness and emotion, and c'mon bat winged monsters eating babies is pretty fucking awesome! What is Neckface, the person like?
M: Neck Face... for starters, ice-blue Slurpie runs thru his veins. And he eats more hot Cheetos then anyone I have ever known. He is ingenious. Today he came in and asked me if I saw what he wrote to Obama on Melrose. I said, "No I'll go by on my way home from work tonight, Ok Necky, what did you write?" And Necky said, "I wrote -- Letter to Obama forget Change we need dollars!!!!" Ya gotta love him. A friend baked me some cookies and I said Necky what would you do if a girl baked them for you and he said "She would be pregnant by now!" That is just what went down today. Everyday he has antics and jokes and his smile is so evil... Very ingenious this Necky!!! We are very close.
J: That is awesome! One of my favorite paintings shown at NIA was "Wilford Brimley Ride the White Turd" by Uncomfortable Jams. Do you have a picture of it? I think it's the best title for a painting ever.
M: Somewhere. What a masterpiece, Wilford Brimley was the guy on the oatmeal commercial and the guy from the movie Cocoon! Now that is sick! The first time I saw that painting I fell over laughing. There was another sick one.... It was of a huge butt wearing tight pink jeans with a phone sticking out the back. I asked them , "What the hell is that?" and they said,"it is a painting of your butt!" I had to get it!! How many people have a portrait done of their butt by the Uncomfortable Jams! Now that is my real claim to fame!
J: Ha ha, I remember that painting! Galleries get many inquiries from artists asking for exhibition opportunities, and I'm sure New Image Art gets a ton. I know that I sorta weaseled my way in and talked you into seeing my work; actually I had a reference from Rob Clayton which I think made the difference. What advice would you give to young artists that want to show their work in galleries? What's the best way to approach a gallery?
M: Jeff don't forget I told you to come back the first time!! You did and I was totally blown away by your art. The show you had in the little room of the cactus and all your crazy ass detail and language was a New Image Art classic show as good as it gets!!!! That installation was amazing!!!!!!! Yeah dropping the Clayton's name defiantly got me to drop the security gate!!!
Getting into NIA is a very tough egg to crack. There is no best way. I guess it takes years of me knowing a young artist or a direct connection to someone I already show. It is either exactly what we need or it isn't. I do try out new artists all the time. If I do work with someone even a little bit... that is where I pick my next shows from.
I like to keep the lineage and community. So it is almost impossible unless I find you! I am open to new artists and will look if someone recommends something. I do not want to discourage anyone who is creative. Anything can happen. I have been chased by people in Trader Joe's shoving their art at me when I am buying food...The locksmith today showed me his art on his iPhone... Basta!!!!
J: I'm glad you took a look at my stuff back then, it got me my start! What do you think of the current economic situation in regards to the arts? I know that galleries and artists are feeling the pinch as collectors are slowing down their buying. What do you think is going to happen? Will it be good or bad for the arts?
M: Art can thrive in any situation. Art is the best of life. When art stops we all will be dead.
J: Thanks so much Marsea! New Image Arts celebrates it's 15th Anniversary in an exhibit opening Saturday January 24th, 2009 at 7pm. NIA is located in Los Angeles at 7910 Santa Monica Blvd. See you there!
Interview conducted by Jeff Soto - Jan 2009
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