“Your honor, I am eminently qualified for the series of artwork. The most compelling reason being that I am a Los Angeleno.”

I almost had to laugh, calling her ‘your honor.’ It just slipped out. I was pleading my case before Madine DuPreen, who is an old friend of mine. She’s a curator and arts writer who still hates my artwork, even after we slept together.
Madine was chairing the union evaluation panel. It had been eight months since I had applied for a new Artist’s Statement and this was the final evaluation for my approval.

Ever since the art world went union, everything moves at a snail’s pace. It took a friend of mine eleven months to change his medium from painting to collage.
I have spent the last seven years deconstructing the light in burnt umber. Now I wanted to tackle something larger. My buddies were laughing at me. “What are you going to do? Move up to cadmium orange?!” We laughed until the beer shot from our noses.

Everyone in the AAAW (American Arts and Aesthetic Workers) has to serve twenty hours annually. We call it ‘art world jury duty.’ Today, killing their hours, was a distinguished panel. There were a couple of recent art grads doing their apprenticeship, several mid-career artists and a few superstars like Madine DuPreen and art writer Dave Hickey.
“Yes, your honor,” I repeated. “I live in Los Angeles. I believe that more than qualifies me for my new series.”
“ What ‘n--What does that have to do with anything?”
Madine sat very upright with her hands anchored on the table before her. The thirty-two year old wore a black suit with a severe cut. Her bronze hairdo was almost architectural; a Dallas hair stylist would envy it.
When she spoke, her syllables were lengthier than usual. It made me wonder.

“I mean, really.” Madine had rediscovered the blue chip accent she picked up at Smith College. “Residency alone does not qualify this field of interest.”
“Your honor,” I replied, “In this instance, it has everything to do with it. In Los Angeles, we have a long tradition of newfound religions, health fads, twisted cults, and evangelical start-ups. My residency qualifies me to establish this philosophical and spiritual pursuit.”

After seven years of burnt umber, I wanted to tackle something larger. I decided to take on the big issues that have been stumping mankind for thousands of years, the big stuff like the ‘Meaning of Life,’ ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What is my special purpose?’ My new work intends to launch a spiritual revolution.

“Continue, then.” Madine sighed as if her maid were moving back to Guatemala.
“The history is long and celebrated. For example, take Aimee Semple McPherson, a blonde bombshell with a foolish case of hot pants. She was a national evangelical superstar but you probably only know of her famous 1926 kidnapping, which turned out to be a flimsy cover for a secret tryst.”
Dave Hickey lit a cigarette and smiled.
“Charlie Manson loved L.A.,” I continued. “One of the most famous cult leaders in the world flourished in Los Angeles. I’ve even visited an attic near USC where some allege that Manson painted an unholy mural. It wasn’t that interesting.”
“Charlie don’t paint,” said Dave Hickey. The grad students and I laughed.
“Los Angeles has Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard and Korla Pandit and—”
“ L.A. doesn’t have Utah,” Madine said. I wasn’t sure what she meant and my expression told her so. “What about the n-Mormons?” she asked.
“Excellent point,” I said. “I’m sure if Brigham Young had a better map, his pioneers would have ended up in Los Angeles.”
I was on a roll. I hit the gas.
“Southern California has always been a golden magnet. It’s a land of fruits and nuts, but also cotton, oil and real estate. In his novel Day of the Locust, Nathanael West tells us it is a place where people come to die. Like an elephant lumbering off to the pile of ivory and bone, Southern California has always promised hope and salvation. It’s a final destination. Aimee Semple traveled the country, preaching for years, until she settled in Los Angeles for the easy pickin’s. If you consider—”
“Well then!” Madine clapped her hands loudly, startling the other panelists to attention. No one knew what she was talking about. She leaned close to Dave Hickey and exclaimed, “Well then!”
Hickey reeled backwards. That’s when I knew Madine must’ve guzzled a liquid lunch.
“Well then,” said Dave Hickey with a chuckle.
“ Well then.” Since everyone else was saying it, I said it too. I snuck a peek at the notes hidden up my shirt sleeve.
“ Showmanship! It’s about showmanship. That’s why Cecil B. DeMille made so many Biblical epics. Religion is larger than life. Dr. Jaggers and Miss Velma were larger than life and they too settled their itinerant ministry in Los Angeles, where they preached the love of God and an appreciation for aliens from space. Their ‘Universal World Church,’ near MacArthur Park, was a show-stopper. They were big throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the late ‘90s, hipsters and rock stars would flock to the annual Christmas Pageant for its Pee Wee Herman-like appeal.
“ I never saw Dr. Jaggers, but Miss Velma must have been a brickhouse in her day. The Texas beauty was at least seven feet tall, not including her helmet of gold blond hair. The aging Amazon had a massive rack that was well displayed in her glittery gowns.
“ At Christmas, she would unveil the Golden Tree, a well-advertised spectacular. I’m sure Lloyds of London never issued a policy, but the ‘diamond-studded’ ’24 carat’ tree had a promoters value of ‘priceless.’ In their day, Dr. Jaggers and Miss Velma would present artistic tableaus where she might fly across the stage dressed as a Vargas-like angel. Or, dolled up like a religious Annie Oakley, I heard she would sharpshoot for Christ…Now that’s showmanship!”
“Performance art!” exclaimed Madine. She threw her hands in the air as if she were a model in a kicky perfume ad. “Per-FOR-mance art!”
“Exactly,” I replied.
Dave Hickey nodded and patted her hand. This prompted her to repeat, “Performance art! Perfor-MANCE!”
Dave Hickey eyed Madine. He casually reached over, grabbed her coffee cup and smelled it. His eyebrows lifted a mile and he replaced the liquid TNT.

I had to keep the train on the tracks. “Los Angeles is not that old, but our evangelical history is rich. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists Association was an innovator of a pagan lifestyle and an early influence on the modern suburban subdivision. In Elysian Park they created a huge compound. Most information on the Semi-Tropics comes from their police reports with complaints of midnight dances, séances, readings and wild parties. They could possibly be the forefathers of the modern rave.”
The grad students exchanged winks.
“Religious invention is not limited to a bunch of crazy white people. A century ago, there was a racy inter-racial religious sect called the Azusa Street Revival Group. The Los Angeles Times reported, ‘Devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rights, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement.’ You can’t get any better than that!”
I wasn’t sure if Madine was praying. Her eyes were closed and her head was tilted upwards.
“ Local Angeleno Willard Huntington Smith reported in 1913, ‘No other city in the United States possess so large a number of metaphysical charlatans in proportion to its population. Whole buildings are devoted to occult and outlandish orders — mazdaznan clubs, yogi sects, homes of truth, cults of cosmic fluidists, astral planers, Emmanuel movers, Rosicrucians and other boozy transcendentalists.’”
Madine perked up and nodded. The maven took a sip from her coffee cup. She looked happy.
“Since the Gold Rush, California has forever been in a real estate boom. Real estate and religion have always been soul brothers. In the Silverlake area, the 1920s Holyland Exhibit is still open today. It is the prototype for the evangelical amusement park, a Disneyland for Jesus. Until they put a freeway through it. What was once a twenty-acre zoo has now been reduced to a small lot, but you can still get the jive of living back in the days of Jesus.”

Dave Hickey had finished smoking and was searching for an ashtray. Madine’s coffee cup looked near empty. He tossed the cigarette into the cup. There was a blue flash and the quiet pop of a small explosion. Startled, Dave touched his eyebrow, fearing it might have been singed.
“Of course, not all focus is on the mind, the spirit and the real estate. In Los Angeles, the body gets equal play. In the ‘70s, Malibu’s Sandstone Ranch was a plein aire playground for the sexual free-thinker. In Topanga Canyon, all the neighborhood boys would google through the fence of Elysium Fields, the famous nudist colony. I’m sure that swingers have been wife-swapping long before Los Angeles became a city, but L.A. popularized it. You can argue that modern porn was invented in Los Angeles. I think the jacuzzi was too. L.A. has a climate that does not encourage clothing.
“Your honor, I don’t want you to think that Los Angeles is all about crazies and boobs. There is an intellectual contingent. In Los Angeles, like-minded folks eventually find each other. We are not a political town, but Echo Park was once known as Red Hill, home to Bolsheviks, Anarchists and other third-party candidates.
“Los Angeles is a modern-day Holy City. Imagine the pioneer pushing his prairie schooner through the darkness of endless mountains and deserts, coming through the wilderness to this city of shining light at the end of the continent. There is no further west. We are forever slouching towards Bethlehem and Los Angeles is that bright star.”

The grad students applauded.
Madine smiled blithely just before her head hit the table.
Dave Hickey took the gavel from Madine’s hand and rapped the table twice. “Artist’s Statement approved! Next!”


GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary works can be found at