I’ve spent the last few days visiting local artists’ studios and workspaces for a work assignment. I always love artist’s spaces, especially when they’re messy and real and no one apologizes for splattered paint. It’s been a good week. I’ve seen pottery wheels, half a dozen kilns, fused glass in a barn, paint dried on brushes.
But going to Ava’s was like entering another dimension.
Over the phone, the artist described the directions to her “house”: “near the cemetery,” “meet me at the red door around back” and “what kind of car do you drive so I can tell the guardhouse?” Guards. Really?
I didn’t realize until I got there that Ava lives and works in a two-floor, wide-open, 10,000-square-foot abandoned building on a college campus. It’s a living museum, a place that is her home, her studio and one of her galleries.
There are only a couple of rooms, a guest bedroom and a archiving/computer room. The rest of the loft-like spaces are broken up with couches, tapestries and her tall paintings that are stacked dozens of paintings deep.
Ava, now 69, has been an artist since she was 3. She was born in Massachusetts, but started traveling early. She went to school in Berkeley and Oregon and has always either been an architect or artist. She’s lived in 80 countries, her favorites being India, China, Morocco, Chile and Brazil. This living museum, where I spent my morning, is filled with her 8-foot-tall paintings, but it is the smallest of her massive collection.
In the entrance of her studio with the soft light of the first rainy day flooding through the foggy window panes, Ava described her work. Dimensional Expressionism is the art movement she’s spearheading. She studies energy and color and shapes. She makes colors, actually, from patterns. Fabric with all tones and textures is spread across the space to inspire her and teach her about color. The living museum (the idea that she lives and works there) is a concept she’s coined, and she encourages other artists to create their own living museums. She’s funded 80 living museums around the world, and is known for occupying highrises, industrial complexes, caves — and this old college building that she’s lived in alone for three years.
Ava makes her own paints and adhesives and is passionate about pigment. She gets her supplies from all around the world. But what makes her paint special is that it’s rich with pigment. She get pigment from the top of the paint barrels, while most paint company’s bottle and sell what is on the bottom of the barrel.
When you look around the space, paintings stand tall around the perimeter and create a center island. What you don’t realize at first, though, is that her paintings are stacked 10, 12, 20 or more paintings deep.
While Dan worked, and Ava posed in front of her tall, glowing self-portrait, I walked around with my own camera. It was sensory overload.
Ava lives and works alone. But her house is not without plenty of beds. Every night she sleeps in a different spot: on a couch, on one of the five beds or on the dozens of rugs on the ground she’s collected on her travels.
She’s not alone in the big building, though. She bribes friends to visit with the promise of a comfortable bed and, of course, breakfast in bed. People always feel inspired to create when they’re over. Her son, a lawyer, even complains that she turned his fiance into an artist because she switched her major to art after spending the night.
While most of the guest beds are wide open and close to one another, there is a private bedroom downstairs. It also holds Ava’s collection of handmade and hand-painted pottery.
Upstairs are racks of fabrics and clothing, many that have been made by Ava. They are part of her study of color and fabric. Soon, her work will be printed on silk and sold to designers.This portrayal of a woman is what Ava painted while she was living in the desert and random circus rode through. She described dancing and color and then they were gone.So that’s Ava, and that’s her living museum. I feel like I learned so much, but there’s still so much I can’t grasp. I hope you enjoyed sharing my little peek into someone else’s world.