Winning the Lotto with the Marbled Mistress of LA’s Chinatown
Studio Visit and Interview with Danielle Garza, July 2017
By John Vochatzer
In what I (as a vampiric, vitamin-deficient San Franciscan) can only describe as a scorchingly hot LA afternoon, Ashley Macias from Phoenix, my old friend Chas, and I bumbled in to the studio of Danielle Garza, master marbler, consummate collagist, and all around arts-and-crafts enchantress. We must have looked dehydrated because the first thing she did was offer us sparkling water. I thought about telling her not to worry and reminded her it was just my look, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and politely take the water.
Her psychedelic oasis is located deep in the heart of Los Angeles' Chinatown, nestled above and connected through trap doors leading to what I can only imagine in decades prior was some sort of shanghai repository located right down the street from the lotto retailer where Chinese centennials play Mahjong all day and squander their retirements on scratcher tickets and Daily Derbys.
Danielle pretty much represents everything that makes LA cool and makes those of us up here in the cold, murky Bay Area bitter with jealousy and migrate southward by the hordes. She's suave, she's enterprising, and she creates immersive, hallucinatory visuals that will send your senses down a maelstrom of candy-colored proportions. Replete with perception-bending 3D resin art and swirl-upon-swirl of melting marbled vortexes in every hue from mustard to magenta, Danielle's workspace is nothing short of a quick Megabus ride through a Crayola-crayon-chic technicolor rabbit-hole. After staring long enough at her works, the question occurs whether you've really entered some sort of alternate kaleidoscopic reality or if perhaps some residual resin fumes have just made their way through your respiratory system and into your brain.
Pulling myself out from the fever dream fengshui of rainbow tinted wormholes and pyrotechnic phosphenes was no easy feat as I realized I still had much of a studio visit to conduct and better get on with it…
In Chinese culture, it is customary to bring a gift to somebody's home (or studio) when invited, so in my usual last-minute fashion I picked up the nearest thing available: 40 bucks in Lotto scratchers. Allegedly, this was only the second time in Danielle's life that she’s played the scratchers, but you wouldn't have guessed from the fervor and enthusiasm with which she etched away at the polymer on those little cards. Five minutes later, our fingernails encrusted in silver and our adrenaline running high...
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Danielle looked more upset about the loss than I was, but I explained it was okay and that this was just the way these things worked and if she kept buying the tickets eventually she'd hit it big. As the consoling effects of my words gradually took hold, within no time we were back to a place of merriment and jubilation; random studio bric-a-brac thrown in the air like confetti, Perriers guzzled, and enough colorful photos taken that my phone couldn't take anymore.
As Ashley, Chas, and I bid Danielle temporary adieu to make our way over to the infamous Melody Lounge, the thought struck me like a spiraling multi-chromatic bolt of lightning: as nice as it would have been to have struck a fortune on those scratchers, the real jackpot in life is having the pleasure to know and be friends with weird, delightful artists and people like Danielle and doing fun shit like visiting their studios with my friends on a hot ass day. With that, I think I can safely say that at least one of us walked away from that perilous game of chance a winner. Thanks for the winning ticket Danielle.
John Vochatzer: Hey Danielle! One thing I noticed about your studio is it has a bunch of neat and colorful stuff in it. If I were to have had given you a winning scratcher for $2,500 (that was the hope!) with the only caveat being that all of the winnings had to be spent on cool new shit for your studio, what are some examples of things you would get?
Danielle Garza: I love this question!! Fantasy "what if" hypotheticals are my favorite. I would definitely invest in my work/buy things that would benefit my process and studio overall. First would be to purchase materials to construct a large mobile table with shelving and a bigger tray for marbling. Mobile in that it would have wheels and ability to relocate anywhere within the workspace. Other materials like resin, paint... I'd love a bigger stock of my favorite paper specific for marbling. And hey- how about a mini fridge for snacks?!
JV: Hell Yeah! Whats a good studio without snacks right!? To indulge your penchant for hypotheticals, here’s another one for ya: If you could be a combination of any three animals, living or extinct, what would they be and why?
DG: This is a really, really tough question! Right now I'm going to go with:
Pterodactyl - they are badass and can fly
Lemur - some of them sing!
Sloth - catch up on some z's / go viral
JV: WHAT!? That’s crazy. You’re crazy Danielle. Do you have idea what this thing would look like? Geez and I thought I was the head case! Anyways, tell me a little bit about this gigantic fucking boombox you made for FYF Fest this year. I looked at some pictures of that thing online and it was humongous. How the hell did you guys do that?
DG: Haha yeah, it was pretty massive! It was an undertaking but we all really love that box!
So in early 2017 FYF hired me to design their official lineup announcement. We got a small all-star team together and the work we did really set itself apart from all of the other festival announcements and general graphic design happening out there / it was a huge hit. After that FYF asked "What other ideas do you have for onsite @ the festival?" and I replied "I want to build a giant boombox!" I originally pitched it in a meeting at Goldenvoice as a giant cardboard boombox, which we'd cut all by hand, but after looking at the $ numbers we decided it'd be wiser to have it fabricated with wood (MDO) for durability and future-usage...
It took awhile but I finally found Chris Owens, a WIZard with another small team of skilled fabricators and his woodshop is coincidentally a few minutes from my studio. I basically ran back and forth between our studios for a month working out the details of how we were going to do this. It's based off of a boombox from the 1980s that I own. Chris worked his magic and is extremely knowledgeable in how to construct things. We sourced the materials and together designed the piece with pretty thorough detail. I did not want it to appear flat, but rather remain consistent to the real thing, so we got dimensional with literally everything from the dial, speakers, knobs and levers to the giant cassette in the deck, which I hand-painted bright pink and labeled it with paper marbling. I insisted on the holographic finish, cause you know I'm all about those rainbows. ;)
We designed a door in the back so I could get in/out of the boombox- I had real audio speakers inside the fabricated ones and a mixer with a playlist I made running off my iPad. Also inside we incorporated programable LED lights with different colors, which Chris had made a removable base for the controllers.
It took a full day to install, assemble and lock it in off a flatbed truck, with a lot of manpower and forklift. I had rented plants to surround the sides of the box, some were huge palms that had to be brought in also with forklifts. I arranged all the plants and nearly gave myself a hernia in the process LOL.
But then late that install night after everyone had gone home I sat alone in the grass in front of the boombox with my music and the light controllers and felt like I was playing the most giant interactive game- like it was a blown up Nintendo game or something, the calm before the storm chilling in Expo Park with this thing... our baby we'd worked so hard on and kept secret, ready to share it with Los Angeles the next day, it was a super surreal and almost like a childhood fantasy experience I will never forget.
JV: Whoa that’s even cooler. I didn’t realize it was like an actual operable boombox/house. Can I live inside it?
DG: Yeah! It's got multiple "rooms!"
JV: If the Insane Clown Posse contacted you and wanted to pay you big money to make them a similarly humungous can of Fayglo Soda or whatever that crap they drink is for the next annual Gathering of the Juggles, would you do it? And if so how would you go about it?
DG: Haha nah man, they don't even know how magnets work! …I just had to Google that soda.
JV: Those silly goofs. Aside from colossal, megalithic boomboxes it seems like marbling and 3D mixed media resin collage are your go-to mediums. Why don’t you give me a little comparing/contrasting, etc. on these two things.
DG: I’ve been collaging for as long as I can remember. While I was growing up my bedroom walls were covered in collage- some even 3D at that time as I'd glue rocks and broken glass and found objects to cardboard covered in paper collage. I started using resin maybe 4 years ago and as you know it was definitely a game changer. Around then I also taught myself how to marble and have been getting more serious with working on techniques over the past couple years. I'm basically obsessed with marbling... and I find it to be a pretty meditative process. Another project for this year's FYF was we blew a couple of my paintings up and vectorized them as the printed vinyl banners heading the two biggest stages. The main was over 130 feet, so I suppose that's my biggest marble and proudest piece to date. 😎
JV: That’s awesome! You recently mentioned to me that you’ve been proactive in putting together a Southern California collage collective. How has that been coming along and how is the collage scene down in So-Cal these days? And how do you think it contends with other hubs like New York and the Bay Area?
DG: LA Collage Collective! We're still in our early days but we've had a few meet ups, first show coming up and critiques scheduled. I'm hoping things evolve into something special. I will say I've thoroughly enjoyed working with/getting to be better friends with Michael @heavyhymns and Zach @zachmoldof who I've started it with. They are very good dudes. Everyone's mentality has been inclusive to anyone who's into collage. I don't think we want to contend with the other big-city collectives, but rather riff off of them, be open to working with them, meet up and make friends all around, etc. It's all about collaboration.
JV: Word. If you could eliminate one thing from the face of the earth, and if you had unlimited budget to direct a feature length film, what would it be about? For sake of brevity please try to consolidate both of these questions into a single concise answer.
DG: No problem! If I could eliminate one thing from the face of the Earth it would be climate change. Although there are several films and documentaries about the subject, I would direct a film that related as such... perhaps instead it would be a harsh and yet beautifully cinematic series of vignettes showing the realities and affects of climate change not only on the environment but animals and people as well.
JV: Great answer. I was recently reading this novel where one of the characters asks someone what the function of art is and it struck and as a question I’d like to pose to fellow artists. Although perhaps a bit of a broad inquiry, how would you go about answering it?
DG: Thank you. Great question! It's difficult to answer this briefly, and there's a variety of responses one could give, but personally I would give a pretty textbook reply that the function of art is to convey something- an idea, statement, emotion, etc. Regardless of medium... visual art, performance, music, film, whatever- I believe the overall function is to provide a means of expression and create a dialog with the audience.
JV: And what kind of things are you trying to express through your work and what sort of dialogues are you trying to create?
DG: So here's the thing, I'm a supporter of people staying involved and educated on current events- especially now with our current political climate within this country and those who are leading it. I myself stay up-to-date and do my best to get involved with various issues that I care about.... but at the end of the day we are still human beings who should practice self-care/meditate/take a break from all of the chaos. I think my work fits right into that niche. It's all about viewing a piece and transporting your mind into another space. Whether that be a contemplative or escapist experience, it's subjective to the viewer in what they receive out of that, but my hope is that there's something dreamy or introspective that comes out of the experience of mentally and visually flowing through swirling colors and surrealist landscapes.
JV: I feel that for sure and think there’s nothing wrong with art often being apolitical even in pressing times. It’s important for people to do their parts but escape and indulgence are equally necessary for some of us to maintain any degree of sanity in these tumultuous lives of ours.
I’m pretty sure your birthday and mine are both like right on the cusp of whats considered a “millennial.” Do you identify as a millennial? Do you like memes? And if so what would you say to your fellow millennials?
DG: Haha! Yeah... here's where it gets tricky. I'm sure for you too. I'll say most of the time I do not solely identify as a millennial, because I'm right in that sweet spot of relating to both the generation ahead of me and millennials at the same time. Forever in our own zone. But I do love memes- for real LOVE that shit. Pretty much all I follow on IG is art, baby animals and meme accounts. We've got to maintain a sense of humor, ya know?
I want to remind millennials to learn from the baby boomers- you aren't entitled to anything. Don't think you won't have to work your ass off just because a few of you got lucky or rich off of YouTube. It's all about the long game. Remember to let go of your phone. Put it away when you're at dinner with your friend. Your Internet persona can wait. Go on hikes, send stuff in the mail. Look at the art in the museum with your actual EYEBALLS vs just taking a photo of it! Never ever forget those who came before you and how things came to be. Life is short, take nothing for granted. ☮️
JV: One last thing: Do you have Netflix? What should I watch while I’m trying to fall asleep tonight?
DG: ASMR videos on YouTube! Or Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting is on Netflix as well.