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Brushing up on obscure arts district : Inglewood studio tour helps reveal the city's somewhat hidden scene to art fans -- and to artists themselves.

November 16, 2009|Alejandro Lazo

Karen Sikie spotted a woman standing at the doorway of a storefront art studio in Inglewood and introduced herself, hand outstretched.

"Are you Renee Fox?" Sikie asked. "I am also an artist in Inglewood."

Fox, a painter, shook Sikie's hand and smiled. As organizer of the Inglewood Open Studios art tour over the weekend, she had hoped for just this kind of exchange.

"I didn't know how to participate," Sikie told Fox.

"Well, this is how you do it," Fox replied. "I'll take your card."

Next year, Fox told Sikie, she could join the growing list of Inglewood artists participating in what has become a popular annual event.

"A lot of artists here are isolated," Sikie said as she perused the paintings on Fox's studio wall. "So it's nice to know there are others."

On most days, Inglewood's warehouses, storefronts and industrial buildings, clustered around La Brea Avenue and East Hyde Park Boulevard in the north part of the city, hide the work of the professional painters, sculptors, illustrators and photographers who have made the city their home.

Fox and others are trying to garner attention for the city's burgeoning arts scene -- one developing away from more established, higher-rent areas including Venice, Santa Monica and Culver City.

"This is really like the last frontier in this area," said Steve Fujimoto, a Redondo Beach artist who heard about the show through an e-mail list. "Art and Inglewood: You just don't hear those words together. That's why it's so cool."

Fujimoto was standing in a large brick building on East Hyde Park Boulevard adjacent to Fox's studio. The vacant building, dating from the 1920s, features high ceilings and exposed metal beams; it was converted into a gallery for the event. Maps of Inglewood showing each artist's location sat neatly on a table at the entrance.

It was the event's third year, and for the first time it earned support from the city, which provided a trolley and three buses to help transport more than 260 art enthusiasts around town. Tourists ranged from curious neighbors to art fans from throughout the Los Angeles area who said they were looking for something new and different.

Kimberly Sizemore of nearby Windsor Hills said she heard of the event through a Neighborhood Watch meeting.

"I was just telling the guy up the street I never come through this part," she said, walking through the group gallery on East Hyde Park Boulevard. "It's great for the neighborhood, it's great for them, as they can probably afford it here. There is a lot of talent."

Artrie P. Gatewood III walked into the group show after noticing the activity just a few blocks from his home.

"It's a great concept," he said. "When I moved into the neighborhood several years ago, I kind of felt the tone of an art scene, but it was kind of secluded, not overt. I hadn't really seen any of their work, so this is a great opportunity."

The work of both new and experienced artists was on display.

One artist, Dustin Shuler, a Pittsburgh native, is well known for his bold, outsized pieces of public art that meld industrial and organic themes. He exhibited some of his more intimate work, including a rain forest environment built inside a bathtub and shower stall with live turtles, birds and frogs. Nearby, the neatly arranged skins of gutted toy cars hung on a rack.

Down the street from Shuler's studio, Joan Robey, an assemblage artist, left her doors wide open. Inside, a band played acoustic jams. Spectators listened and wandered, plastic cups of wine in hand.

Robey lives in Santa Monica and bought her Inglewood building in 2005, a 1970s structure once a check-cashing business. She gutted it, reinforced it with steel beams and added skylights. She shuns flea markets as "too trendy, hip and expensive" and instead scours Southern California's junkyards for the objects she uses in her art. Perhaps fittingly, she finds the rawness of the Inglewood art district appealing.

"I find its grittiness offers some interest to it," she said. "It's not all clean and polished and sanitized yet."

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alejandro.lazo@latimes.com

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