By Brian Feinzimer
By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
He was a creative child, doing crazy things such as dropping a running lawn mower into a hole in the front lawn so it would make smoke for his home movie. But the life-threatening experience inspired him, as well as his wife, Candace, to open a private art studio called Violet Hour in his dad's warehouse. "The gallery was born out of the necessity to house photo equipment and props, but [it] became our fantasy for [photo] shoots," Candace says. The room changed over the years, but it still contains props that most visitors never forget—a Burning Man bunny art-car and dozens of mannequins in different costumes and poses.
It remained the Magoskis' private playground until 2010, when two local gallery owners walked in. Jesse La Tour from Hibbleton and Brian Prince from PÄS both found themselves hanging out at Violet Hour's underground shows. "It was a surreal experience," Prince says, shaking his head. "With all the costumes and mannequins, you just felt like you were somewhere else, not Fullerton."
Mike saw the potential of not only the space, but also the community that could be fostered and offered Prince his own little corner. Shortly after, La Tour relocated Hibbleton there; the soft-spoken Fullerton College English professor single-handedly started Fullerton's Art Walk, enlisting local galleries and even retail businesses to participate. Once La Tour and Prince moved into the colony, the warehouse began attracting more people. "Growing up in a suburban community, you're kind of isolated," La Tour says. "Having the gallery awakened a sense of caring for the community. I was a shy person, but I realized how very important it was, and it makes your worldview more open."
Over the next couple of years, Mike built the galleries and lofts upon Hibbelton and PÄS. Between the artists renting space, outsiders showing in galleries, and group events that welcome the public, including Movie Night and Poetry Night, a solid group of 30 or so people began using the colony on a weekly basis. "There were privacy issues that plagued me," Candace says, "but it has turned out to be good, and we enjoy all the colonists."
"I just think of the entire building like an art project," Mike says. "It's my art project, and I'm painting with people."
* * *
On the first Friday of every month, the colony pulls back the curtain. The heavy metal doors are swung wide open, and the theatrical lighting pours out into the street. Artists stand by their galleries, explaining their pieces to the quizzical. The hallways fill with crowds. Candace smiles and serves sangria. At each art walk, she wears a different costume and an enormous, colorful wig; it makes chatting her up at the bar, whether about art or Facebook, rather captivating. Mike pumps an eclectic mix through the warehouse's sound system and deejays behind a white projector screen; on this Friday in May, Mike is showing a Godard film. He comes out only once to mingle.
"Candace is the yin to my yang," Mike says. "She'll be the first person to tell you I'm full of shit. I think she sees all of this in a potentially different way than I do, which is why we work well together. I see this grandiose big picture of a utopian art world, and Candace sees it for what it is now. She pulls me in."
"[It] has been challenging for me because I don't always understand [his] vision," Candace admits.
Actually, most OC residents have never understood any art-colony dream, period. In the early 1900s, painter Norman St. Clair moved to Laguna Beach and began painting Impressionist works of the beautiful landscape. Hundreds of others followed him and established a vibrant arts community that birthed the Festival of the Arts and the Pageant of the Masters. But as Laguna grew into affluence, starving artists couldn't afford to live there anymore, and the city's art scene turned into the current plague of Thomas Kinkade knockoffs and dolphin-sculpture galleries.
In recent years, Santa Ana's Artists Village seemed as though it could be a permanent contender, with galleries circling Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Arts Building and the historic Santora Building. But, just as with Laguna, rents began to increase, and the city started pushing for more restaurants and bars instead of keeping artists in mind. The death knell came in January, when Newport Beach millionaire Jack Jakosky purchased the Santora, summarily painted over a community mural and kicked out longtime tenants.
Many years ago, Mike and Candace rented a wall at the Santora. It didn't last too long. "How do you build a community that's self-sustaining and constantly evolving?" Mike asks, though it's more of a statement than a question. "I think the only way it can happen is where there is a partnership between business and structure and chaos and the artists. If these two opposing forces can find common ground, that's where you'll find the longevity in the community."
Even though the artists spend at least one night a week together, conversations about the colony never seem to dry up. "I think it's great knowing such drastic differences can exist next to each other," says Steve Elkins, the documentary filmmaker in charge of Movie Night. "Amidst all the puke puddles, you can crawl down the rabbit hole into this place. It's an important image to carry with you, that people are doing incredible things just around the corner."