Harry Blitzstein

first we take berlin

Jürgen Blümlein and his FauxAmi crew are inviting you to a very special experience as they’re proudly presenting the Berlin debut solo-show of LA art-veteran Harry Blitzstein at OPEN WALLS Gallery. To get you introduced to this wonderful human being from Fairfax and his work, here’s an excerpt of an interview Mr. Blümlein did with the man himself. See y’all at the vernissage on June 29.

How is life in sunny Los Angeles? LA is a good place to be, I think. I wanted to escape LA all my life because when I was in high school in the 1950s it was very smoggy here. The air was thick and gray when I was in high school. And I thought that was just a part of life. But then there was a travel log in high school. The travel log showed an Austrian village and I thought, ‘Oh my god, how beautiful. It’s like living in a work of art – that’s where I wanna be! I’m gonna get out of here.’  The suitcase was on the floor, always with the lid open, and I would not own more clothes than could fit into it, and when I would look at it I would always think that soon soon I would be done writing and I would slam shut the suitcase and leave to Europe even if I went in only a t shirt and Levi’s. That was my thing.

So did you ever make it out of LA? Because of my family responsibilities, it’s been a joke. The family joke is I don’t get east of La Brea [Avenue]. (laughs) On top of it, I was living in my own world… You know, me being an artistic and poetic guy, I wasn’t really in the real world. I was off in dream land. The first guy was Van Gogh that I fell in love with, I’m from European art. All my ancestors are from Europe, whether it’s Romania, and my father is from Lithuania, maybe the Russia area and Ukraine. So my people are from there, but also my art books I’m interested in – they are all European artists.

What kind of artists in particular? [Paul] Cézanne, [Chaim] Soutine, [Francisco] Goya, [Honoré] Daumier, [Jean] Dubuffet, all the European artists. So spiritually I am in Europe. Mentally I’ve been in Europe and LA was just so provincial. So I thought, I can’t do anything here. 

Has that changed? Over the past 20 years, LA has become such an international art market. Before, it was always movies and celebrities. Great. And I was a snob when it came to movies, it just had to be painting for me – not movies. But movies were here, fashion was here, there is so much in Southern California in the art scene and finally, the museums started to pick up and the artwork became international and some artistic things began forming here. But I didn’t really relate to the things going on here, I related to the Europeans, still. Today, you can do anything in LA as art-wise, it’s open for you.

So it has become easier to be an artist living in LA? It’s a little hard to be understood here. Because the people here are still flying around on cocaine and movie deals, they are not really looking at the fine art. They don’t have a deep understanding of it, and yet with the modern stuff, wonderful things are happening here in the art field. But what’s more substantial, is an understanding of Cézanne (laughs).

One thing I wanted to mention, which also brought us into your life, the day we passed by your gallery on Fairfax in 2009 and looked through your window. You have the museum at Fairfax, and first of all, the place is amazing! It is at your disposal if you want to skateboard in it! 

Is it true the space was your father’s shoe shop? Yes, the third shoe shop. I grew up in Boyle Heights, East LA. The first shoe store was there on Whittier Boulevard, and the second one was on 1st Street. They were little family shoe stores, and went on for years. Eventually we moved over to Fairfax where the art gallery is. That was my father’s shoe store and that studio space in back was the one they initially wouldn’t let me have as an art studio. They rented it out for $40 a month and divided it with big boards and the guy from the Hungarian restaurant next doors would cook his baklava there in the oven. I was supposed to continue working in the business. And years later there was a big fire and when they rebuilt I made my studio in the back and the art gallery in front. Later on, due to family circumstances, I moved into my apartment house and gave up the studio in the back and just have the art gallery on Fairfax. 

Why did you name it a museum? I called it a museum because at the time I opened up there was nothing on this street than little grocery stores and fruit markets and little dress stores. Just a little neighborhood. There was nothing really cool about Fairfax. I thought that a “museum” would be such a stark contrast that it would create an interest and people would walk in. But nobody cared up there, they walked by.

HARRY BLITZSTEIN - FIRST WE TAKE BERLIN / 30.06. - 10.07.2016 / Daily 12pm - 6pm

OPEN WALLS Gallery / Schröderstr. 11 / 10115 Berlin / Vernissage: Wednesday 29.06.2016 / 6pm - 10pm