Los Angeles may be the city of stars, but it actually belongs to the young artists, drunk off dreams and determination, crackling with creative energy and a fierce hustle. They flock to the city from all over, inspired by the desert and ocean and space to breathe, the sun-drenched attitude that says this is the place where you can become whoever you want to be. Over the past ten years, LA’s art scene has quietly evolved into a rich landscape of creativity that embraces the spectrum of high to low, wealthy collectors mingling with street artists in the city that values passion and personal expression above all else. Whatever art you make, there is a pocket of Los Angeles that will welcome it with open arms.
One such pocket is Highland Park, a neighborhood in east LA that is home to a thriving creative community, in part because of places like Co-LAb Gallery, an eclectic and sweetly colorful gallery-meets-retail space on York Boulevard. Co-LAb is committed to supporting and elevating local and emerging artists and featuring art that is affordable and accessible to everyone. Their vibe is playful, colorful, and blissfully unpretentious, a refreshing respite from the typical stuffy or silent art gallery.
While they host a variety of fun events and workshops, we’re most excited for their semi-annual $100 Show, which runs through next weekend. This cash and carry exhibition features over 250 multimedia works of art by over 50 LA based artists, all priced at $100, and all available for attendees to take home on the spot. The wide selection of work offers a glimpse into LA’s dynamic contemporary art scene, as well as introducing many up and coming artists. We chatted with the owner of Co-LAb, native Angeleno Kristin Hector, about the her creative journey, the idea behind the $100 Show, and what she loves most about Los Angeles.
LF: Hi Kristin! Tell us a little about the creative journey that got you here.
KH: The short version is that I went to art school and then left art school because I got a job opportunity working in design and visual merchandising in San Francisco. That led me down a crazy path of different jobs working in a corporate environments, which I didn’t really like. It was a funny time in my life because I put my creative self on the side and tried to just focus on work. I randomly showed three paintings in an art walk in San Francisco and one of them sold, which was crazy. I ended up quitting my job two weeks later, moving back home to LA, and bartending in order to fully pursue my artwork.
LF: So selling that painting was a turning point for you?
CH: Yeah. It had always been my dream but I neglected it, because it didn’t seem like something that was tangible. There’s no guidebook, no “Becoming an Artist for Dummies,” or anything. But after I sold that painting, I said screw it and started showing at exhibits around town. I met my business partner through doing that and we started Co-LAb together back in 2010 merely because he had an empty space and I knew a bunch of people who wanted to show their work. It started off in a really simple manner, just a few pieces from each artist and just hanging art. And then people started bringing in prints and zines and books. I had done interior design and visual merchandising in the past so it all came together really organically. And here we are, seven years later. The artists we represent are also making all the merchandise that we sell. It’s like this crossover concept of gallery meets art retail.
LF: Why did you decide to move to Highland Park?
KH: Highland Park was funky and it wasn’t oversaturated, and we could really focus on the community. Kids from the high school can come in and buy a pin for the same price as the Coke they buy at the taco truck next door. We appeal to the whole demographic of this side of town. Technically, we are probably part of gentrification, but we are also supporting the community, because we’re seeking up-and-coming artists that aren’t super established, and that person could have grown up down the block and stumble in here. Not to mention we’re right next door to La Estrella, which is the best taco truck on earth.
LF: How do you find the artists you feature?
KH: Literally everywhere. We get tons of submissions and referrals from artists who we already represent. We also hunt online through every resource there is. It has become the perfect balance between us finding people and people coming to us, which gives us a really wide selection. But there is an aesthetic through line that connects all the art and art merchandise we have. We’re drawn to pieces that are colorful, playful, and a little bit tongue in cheek. Hopefully there’s a little something for everyone.
At the end of the day, Co-LAb is solely about being a platform for artists. We get so much satisfaction out of building this network of artists, showing really great work, and having a community that we can grow with. Because I’m also an artist, I have an understanding of that world from being on that side for so long, which makes this space different than most galleries.
LF: It’s not the typical stuffy gallery vibe, which is so appealing. You guys also do a ton of community events and workshops. Do you have a favorite event?
KH: What you’re seeing right now, when all the artists are dropping off new work, this is my favorite time. It’s like Christmas. There’s so much potential, and it feels like such a fun unveiling and a precious calm before the storm. But besides that, I would say that The $100 Show is quickly becoming my favorite. It’s just so nice that you get to take the work off the wall yourself and take it home with you on the spot. It’s such a frenzy of people buying art and meeting artists, and it fulfills that sense of instant gratification.
LF: Love the concept. How was the $100 Show conceived?
KH: This is actually our third time doing it. I feel like $100 is that perfect sweet spot for almost everyone, in terms of buying something. It’s a dollar amount that most people can afford. We were like, lets see how many artists would be interested in making work for $100, lets see what quality the work would be, and lets see how many people would respond to it. And it blew me away! The quality blew me away, and how many people wanted to be a part of it blew me away. It’s the full package of what Co-LAb is all about: affordable, accessible, and giving local artists a space to show new work. The first and second show were huge successes. There’s a great energy surrounding this show, and seeing people get so excited that they can afford a piece of art they love is fun for me. It’s an amazing opportunity to start a collection from an accessible price point. I’m trying not to buy out the entire show myself, and give other people a chance to see them (laughs).
LF: And all the pieces are on 8×8 wood panels?
KH: Yeah! It’s a great shape, not too big. You can put it on the wall or on a bookshelf. It’s the perfect size for people to feel good about spending $100 on, and for the artist to spend enough time for it to be fair for both sides.
LF: How do your source the artists for this specific show?
KH: We have almost 400 artists that we’ve worked with since we opened, and in this show, almost half the artists are new artists. For each show we have, we try to bring in at least 4-5 new artists so we’re always growing, but once you’re with us, you’re in the Co-LAb family for life (laughs). For this show, since it’s so big, we throw a mass email to our entire Rolodex of artists for an open submission. There’s no theme, which puts a lot of freedom in the artists’ hands. They know that with us they can be bold, at least with their colors. I try not to give too many guidelines.
LF: What’s the ratio of male to female artists in the show?
KH: This has happened so organically, and not intentionally, but our artist roster is literally 85% female right now. It’s kind of fascinating in its own way, but we’ve pretty much become a majority female artist space, which is not common, but we’re not mad about it at all.
LF: Co-LAb feels really indicative of Los Angeles to me. Do you find yourself inspired by the LA art scene?
KH: Yes. I feel like this city is much more open to the nobody doing something rad than any other city I’ve lived in. People are open to someone being talented. What has been really exciting to me is stumbling across so many talented people here who don’t even realize how talented they are.
LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?
KH: If you are truly passionate, just stick with that. Learn how to come out of those low moments that totally go left when you’re literally steering the boat right. Those moments when you are in the hole of life trying to figure out your career? Try to find a way to learn from them so you can be better. Those shitty times are important, because everything that has led me to this point is because of a super shitty moment. There’s no guide for an artistic career. Everyone I know took a much more typical path, and for a long time I felt like I was just floating. But even in those lows, I never gave up ultimately trying to find a creative career.
LF: Do you have anything you turn to when you’re looking for artistic inspiration?
KH: Music. For me, the sadder the music I listen to, the more I create. I create in an emotional state, so if I can get myself in a super sad state of mind, some of my best stuff comes from that (laughs). Also, the number one inspiration for me is color. If I’m driving around, I’ll notice color palettes on buildings and colorful houses and flowers. There is so much amazing color you find just driving around the weird neighborhoods of LA. My hair has been like ten different colors over the past two years, so clearly color is an inspirational thing in my life.
LF: What advice would you give young creatives looking to get their work shown and break into the art scene?
KH: I would say find a place where you love what they show, and not because the gallery is a big name. Find a place where you love the people who are running it and you dig what they’re about. That’s one of the reasons I started Co-LAb, because I felt the art world was kind of cold and impossible to break into. It’s very much who you know and who wants to back you, and we’re the total opposite of that. Also, surround yourself with creative people who inspire you. Finding people who challenge you to be better, make cooler shit, and step outside your comfort zone as a creative, can be even more valuable than finding a gallery. Not in a negative or jealous way, but people who fuel your passion to be better for yourself. Create your own network of people who inspire you.
LF: What is your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
KH: That’s a tough one. I truly love just driving aimlessly around this city, trying to get lost. There’s this French artist movement called dérive, where they would all basically let their subconscious drive them through their day, instead of having a plan. When I lived in San Francisco, my friend and I would have dérives. We would start at one of our apartments and say, “Lets go left.” And then we’d go left for seven blocks and be like “Lets get a drink here.” No second guessing, and no saying no. I feel like my way of doing that in LA is by getting in my car and just driving. My other favorite thing about LA is In N Out. I literally grew up on it and will never forget the day my dad let me order a Double-Double for the first time. It’s just in my DNA.
LF: How fast do you live?
KH: I’d say a solid 72 miles an hour. When I was 28, I would say it was a good 87, but it has slowed down a bit. Still above the speed limit though…
The $100 Show opens Friday, May 19th from 7-10PM at C0-LAb Gallery and runs through Sunday, May 28th. Co-LAb Gallery is located at 5319 York Boulevard in Highland Park. Don’t miss it!