Since its beginnings, the ocean-front community of Venice, California has had a reputation for the eclectic. The sandy beach has drawn sun-worshippers and the vendors that serve them. But the community has also had a reputation as an artists’ colony. It so happens, that was the intention of the development’s founder.
Abbot Kinney the Man
Abbot Kinney was a savvy land developer in at the turn of the 20th century. He also had a passion for land preservation and culture. As his part of the dissolution of a business partnership, he took the marshland to the south of Ocean Park, and set about creating what he hoped would be a cultural mecca for the West Coast, his “Venice of America.” His vision included the construction of canals in the area, an ocean-front amusement attraction, and Chautauqua-like presentations. Unfortunately, his high-minded intentions did not attract the public as he hoped, and keeping the artificial canals from turning into stagnant malodorous ditches was impossible. Much of Kinney’s original vision was lost. But the draw of Venice attracted many all the same. The community thrived, even after Kinney’s death in 1920.
Celebrating the Origins of Venice, California
The combination of Venice, Abbot Kinney and art continued after his death. In 1941, the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts, commissioned artist Edward Biberman to produce a mural about Abbot Kinney and the story of Venice for the Venice Post Office. Biberman had lived in New York City from 1929 to 1936, and during that time became acquainted with Diego Rivera and his fellow Mexican muralists. Their work inspired Biberman with an interest in public murals. His personal style melded the boldness of Rivera and his compatriots with inspirations from the Navajos he lived with in the summer of 1931.
In his non-mural work, Biberman brought a stylization perhaps inspired by the Navajo patterns he had come to appreciate. In his work “Hills and Houses,” the imagery approaches abstraction. The houses are not rendered with exact detail, the hills are suggested with shapes of color, and over all, there is a sense of looking out a window, with the otherwise inexplicable lighter blue rectangle in the sky suddenly becoming the reflection of light from behind the viewer looking out this painted “window.” Biberman had moved to the West Coast in 1936, and it remained his home for the rest of his life.
Art in the Community
Abbot Kinney’s vision of a Chautauqua-center in Venice never quite took root, but his desire to nurture an art-minded community did. In 1979, in order to support the Venice Family Clinic, the community launched the Venice Art Walk, a day of artistic celebration where the public is invited to stroll through Venice, visiting the local art galleries and artists’ studios, particularly those along the boulevard named for the city’s founder. The Venice Art Walk continues to give visitors a glimpse into the vibrant community of artists centered in Venice.
One of those artists is Diana Hobson, whose own studio is located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. She, like Biberman moved to Southern California from New York, arriving in the 1970s. She was at the forefront of artists participating in the Venice Art Walk in the earlier years, receiving a citation from LA Mayor Tom Bradley at one point, in recognition of her engagement in the charity event. She continues to work on her energetic paintings, having many on display at her Venice studio.
“Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice”, mural by Edward Biberman, is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, having recently undergone a restoration. The exhibition includes photos and other items about the artist, Abbot Kinney, and the history of Venice. The exhibition runs through November 16, 2014. The photo of the mural is by Anthony Peres, copyright 2014. The image is used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction and information.
“Hills and Houses,” by Edward Biberman, circa 1951-1961, copyright by the Edward Biberman Estate, located at LACMA. Image used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction and information.
“Feeling Groovy”, by Diana Hobson, 1992. Copyright by Diana Hobson. Used with permission.